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Doctors Say Nicaragua Regime Hiding True COVID-19 Figures; Cases May Exceed 1,000

A Nicaraguan woman wears a protective mask at a cemetery funeral this week in Managua
Alfredo Zuniga
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Nicaragua has reported just 25 cases of COVID-19 and only eight deaths. But Nicaraguan doctors there and in South Florida are speaking up with a much more ominous message.

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When other countries were locking down in March and April to protect their citizens from the new coronavirus, Nicaragua was having street parties. President Daniel Ortega has largely dismissed the COVID-19 threat, even as neighbors like Honduras and Panama have registered thousands of cases.

But more and more Nicaraguan doctors say the remarkably low COVID-19 figures Ortega’s authoritarian regime is reporting are a lie. A consortium of them – the Nicaragua Citizens COVID-19 Observatory – report this week they’ve detected more than a thousand probable COVID-19 infections and almost 200 fatalities.

One of the consortium doctors recently became an exile in Miami claiming he was a persecution target. He asked not be identified to protect colleagues back in his country, but he told WLRN that Nicaraguan officials are forcing his colleagues to designate COVID-19 cases as pneumonia or other respiratory illnesses.

"If they resign their positions in protest," he says, "the government will take away their medical licenses."

Nicaraguan authorities deny that. But on Thursday they were concerned enough to release almost 3,000 inmates from a Managua prison – where an inmate had just died of one of the non-coronavirus respiratory illnesses many Nicaraguan doctors say they're told to list in such cases.

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Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.