More than two hundred pensioners were crowded like sardines in the middle of the street, protected only by some five portable tent structures, in the Matagalpa department office of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS for its abbreviation in Spanish). The institute maintains this method of check disbursement – considered “criminal” by medical professionals – despite the warning that it presents a source of contagion for COVID-19.
A team from CONFIDENCIAL and Esta Semana observed how dozens of pensioners and their families gathered together at the doors of the institute’s office, with barely any social distancing among them. The office made plastic chairs available to them, yet they were still gathered close to one another.
The pensioners entered the office one by one; however, they were still crowded together at the door trying to enter. Outside, there were no officials with alcohol gel nor was there anywhere for people to wash their hands.
Very few people were wearing face masks or any kind of protection again possible contagion. Matagalpa ranks 3rd on the list of departments with the most suspected cases of COVID-19 according to a recent report by the group known as Citizen Observer COVID-19.
The Observer reports a total of 2,323 suspected cases and over 400 deaths related to the novel coronavirus. In Matagalpa there are 165 suspected cases, while at the top of the list is Managua, with 1051 (the department with the highest incidence of the disease); followed by Masaya with 246, Matagalpa and Chinandega with 135.
INSS “responsible for contagion”
During an interview on the news program Esta Noche, Nicaraguan epidemiologist, Leonel Argüello, blamed INSS for any infection or death that might occur among pensioners who must stand in line and gather in groups to collect their pensions.
“I think it’s hugely irresponsible and absolutely criminal that those individuals are exposed all in one place,” said the doctor.
“It’s impossible that, at this juncture – we already know that people are dying – we are exposing the Nicaraguans with the greatest vulnerability and greatest risk of dying,” he added.
He emphasized that the government and INSS can arrange proper distancing of the pensioners or implement a new method of payment that avoids crowds.
“There are people responsible for the contagion, for others becoming ill and dying…it’s the responsibility of INSS to guarantee better care. When those elderly individuals fall ill, who is going to be responsible? We have to take care of them, and we aren’t doing so,” said Argüello.