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Cartagena (Colombia), Jan 26 – Death has entered the daily life of Colombians with the second peak of the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed the lives of 8,534 people so far this year, a tragedy that progresses to an average of 341 deaths per day.
The country ranks 12th in the world in the number of deaths, with a total of 51,747 deaths, which has the funeral services that are struggling daily to attend to the emergency in trouble.
Cartagena de Indias is a reflection of this situation, since in the first 25 days of 2021 it reached an average of five daily deaths from covid alone, which is close to the average of six people who died during the first peak, in the middle of last year. , to which must be added deaths from other causes.
The city has a fatality rate for covid-19 of 1.74%, lower than the national 2.55%, and the occupation of intensive care units (ICU) remains below 70%, figures better than those of Bogotá, Medellín or Cali, among others.
With deaths on the rise, Javier Torres, assistant gravedigger at the dilapidated and historic Santa Cruz de Manga cemetery, faces the drama of death every day and believes “that what is coming now is going to be very hard.”
“When the pandemic began we buried hard, we had seven to eight crates there waiting (to bury them), one after the other on the same day, the pod was a bit difficult,” recalls this 33-year-old Colombian who lived all his life in Venezuela, from where he returned five years ago fleeing the crisis.
According to him, in the first peak of the pandemic, the day was “covering one and immediately grabbing the other (coffin)”, and he fears that the increase in cases in the city will also end up increasing the number of deaths.
FEAR OF CONTAGION
Torres does not hide that he is afraid of burying those who died of covid-19 and working with people he knows are exposed to the virus, such as funeral home employees and even the same relatives of the deceased who sometimes accompany the processions.
“I am afraid of being infected by the children that I have at home, I am afraid that I will get covid-19 and stick it to them,” he says.
The gravedigger’s assistant says that he wears a suit that protects his clothing and that he discards it after each burial; He also wears latex gloves and washes his hands constantly, but he no longer wears a mask because it broke and they haven’t given him another.
He assures that fortunately only one of the gravediggers in the municipal cemeteries of Cartagena has been infected, but he does not know how he contracted the virus, whether it was at work in the cemetery or outside of it.
CEMETERY IN OLVIDO
The Santa Cruz de Manga cemetery, which was the first in the city, was founded in 1823 during the Mayor’s Office of Manuel Marcelino Núñez, but some historians trace its importance to 1815 when “El Pacificador” Pablo Morillo ordered that the remains of the martyrs of the Independence of Colombia shot during the Spanish Reconquest were buried on the land it currently occupies.
This necropolis is known for being the last abode of personalities such as Juan José Nieto, the only black president that Colombia has had, for a brief period in 1861, although his portraitists in an act of racism whitewashed his face.
The cemetery, despite being considered the first architectural work on the island of Manga after the construction of the Boquerón and San Sebastián del Pastelillo forts, and having mausoleums made with Carrara marble (Italy), today is quite abandoned and is visited by few people, a phenomenon accentuated by the limitations imposed by the pandemic.
One of them is María Eugenia García, who explained to Efe that her daughter died a year ago, on January 25, 2020, and was only able to visit her grave for the first time seven months later.
She assures that they were hard months without being able to go to bring her flowers, but she emphasizes: “God strengthened us and I was always (I) saying prayers at home for her.”
The gravedigger’s assistant knows this situation well and says that these months of the pandemic have been very difficult for the relatives of the deceased because the vast majority could not enter to say goodbye to their loved ones and many had to cry from the street.
Ricardo Maldonado Rozo
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