By Ron Gonzalez
Caracas, Jul 27 (efe-epa).- Masks hanging around the neck like a scarf are a common sight in this capital, the epicenter of the pandemic in Venezuela.
After nearly four and a half months of often-flouted coronavirus mitigation measures, many people are eager to get on with their lives and apparently unconcerned about the serious health risks associated with the Covid-19 respiratory illness.
Two female vendors at Mercado Mayor de Coche, a large wholesale market on Caracas’ west side, have an animated conversation with their face coverings dangling below their chins. The mask use of many other vendors also shows the same disregard for the dangers of infection.
A few meters away, another seller, Juan Reyes, shouts out an offer of mortadella (a large Italian sausage) for $2 per package. He is using a mask that only partially covers his nose and mouth, is not wearing gloves and works for five hours there every day without ever washing his hands.
“I have to go out and put food on the table, boss. If I stay home, how do I (support my family)?” the 42-year-old told Efe.
That open-air market was packed last Saturday with buyers, most of whom were more worried about swatting away flies than maintaining social distance.
Some people who were not wearing their masks properly were stopped by soldiers and ordered to line up against a wall at the entrance to the market.
As punishment, they were forced to hold up a sign alerting people to the importance of wearing face coverings. But that message was largely ignored by the hundreds of people around them.
Reyes thinks the mask requirement is excessive, although he said the large crowds of people are “dangerous.”
About 15 kilometers (nine miles) away, Colombian retiree Esther Garcia walks through a grocery store in the relatively affluent Chacao neighborhood of eastern Caracas while pulling a wheeled shopping trolley behind her.
Although she had already done her shopping, she decided to enter that other store just to compare prices and congratulate herself on her bargain-hunting.
But in doing so, this 67-year-old native of the northeastern Colombian border city of Cucuta (a resident of Venezuela for the past 44 years) was unnecessarily extending her time away from home.
“All of this is really affecting my head. I’m very sociable, and now I’m being constrained,” the woman told Efe, adding that her daughter is worried about the steady rise in the number of coronavirus cases and does not let her leave the house.
“When I’m like this, overwhelmed, I feel nervous and with terrible anxiety. The worst part is that I can’t find a psychologist who will see me,” she added.
Garcia lives in Pedregal, one of the poor sub-sections of Chacao that are nestled amid the neighborhood’s modern high-rise buildings.
Although a nationwide lockdown has been in place since mid-March, when the first cases were detected, Garcia’s daughter and son-in-law work daily outside the home.
“People have to go out and earn a living because if they don’t work and find a way to put food on the table, then it’ll be hunger that kills them not the pandemic,” she said.
Garcia cares for her 14-month-old grandson several days a week and says the young boy gets as desperate as she does when he spends too much time at home.
She therefore leaves her residence every afternoon so the toddler can play in the street. “I see the change in him, how he releases and draws energy” from being in a new environment.