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Venezuelans fight virus in secret to avoid isolation centers

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Venezuelans fight virus in secret to avoid isolation centers

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Velacio Vicuña began to cough incessantly and felt feverish. But the tire salesman avoided getting a test for the new coronavirus, fearing that if it was positive, soldiers would take him from his home and force him to stay at one of the mandatory isolation centers that the Venezuelan government has set up for people with COVID-19.

The notorious conditions at those centers, which include hospitals, repurposed gyms and abandoned hotels, have prompted many people who experience symptoms to avoid testing, analysts say. That’s making it harder to contain the virus in a country where the health system has already been damaged by years of shortages and mismanagement.

Dr. Jose Manuel Olivares, a physician and opposition congressman, described the mandatory centers as a “repressive measure” copied from China — though without China’s resources — that has failed to contain outbreaks in Venezuela. The number of officially reported COVID-19 infections has doubled over the past month to nearly 42,000, with 351 deaths. Independent experts say the real numbers are far higher.

Those confined in the isolation centers complain of filthy conditions, sparse food and being trapped for weeks at a time.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro acknowledged recently in a televised speech that they “terrify” people, but defended them.

He posted a government-produced video on his Twitter feed in which a woman said that she contracted the virus but got better at one of the isolation centers. “If you present symptoms go quickly to your nearest health center” Maduro tweeted. “If you act early everything is possible.”

Vicuña, however, resisted.The 63-year-old had felt sick for six days and was having difficulty breathing before […]

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