At least eight doctors working for Nicaragua's public health system were sacked on Tuesday for criticizing President Daniel Ortega's government for a slow response to the coronavirus pandemic, medical professionals said.
Infectious disease specialist Carlos Quant, a member of Nicaragua's independent Scientific Multidisciplinary Committee set up to respond to the crisis in the wake of government inaction, said the doctors had been fired for supporting his call for voluntary quarantine measures.
Quant told AFP the sackings were apparently "in retaliation for having taken a position contrary to the government's policy of not recognizing" the seriousness of the pandemic.
More than 30 medical associations have backed calls for a voluntary quarantine in the Central American country.
The government has refused to order a quarantine on the grounds that it has the virus "under control."
In contrast to restrictions in other Latin American countries, Nicaragua has been criticized for an almost complete absence of measures to contain the virus.
Ortega's government has kept schools and offices open and maintained crowd-pulling events like the national soccer league.
The dismissals were condemned by the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), which in a statement expressed "concern over the dismissal of several health professionals in the midst of the serious situation that Nicaragua is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic."
Marianela Escoto, a doctor at Managua's Lenin Fonseca hospital, said in a video published on social media that she had been sacked "because I have been one of the people who have raised their voices and called for what is fair."
Medical associations have demanded that the government carry out widespread testing for the coronavirus and supply medical centers with protective equipment, and warned that the increase in COVID-19 cases "has caused a collapse in the public and private healthcare system."
They questioned the government's "unjust policy of secrecy" in the midst of the country's "greatest health crisis."
According to government figures, Nicaragua as of Tuesday has registered 1,464 infections, with 55 deaths since the country's first case was confirmed on March 18.
However, the Citizen Observatory NGO, composed of doctors and community workers, said more than 5,000 people had been infected, with more than 1,000 deaths suspected from the coronavirus.
Gravediggers conduct an "express burial" at night in Managua, Nicaragua, a procedure that has become more common since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic