Nine people have been arrested in Lima for having allegedly illegally profited from patients suffering from the deadly coronavirus. The state hospital workers are suspected of selling access to intensive care unit (ICU) beds.

Arrests have been made following a raid on Guillermo Almenara Irigoyen public hospital, in the Peruvian capital, on Wednesday, local police said. According to a prosecutor, administrators of the hospital that provides free care are among the alleged criminal network that illegally charged their seriously ill patients, local media reports.

There are 80 beds in the hospital’s ICU, and many patients have had to be added to the unit’s long waiting list due to a lack of capacity. However, in a suspected scam scheme, the family of people severely ill with Covid have allegedly been asked to pay as much as 82,000 soles (around $20,800) to gain access to an ICU bed. A patient’s relative tipped off the police after making the payment to skip the line for a family member in need of urgent care. The patient, who had been the 20th on the waiting list, had not been transferred to the ICU even after his relative paid the money, and subsequently died.

Speaking to the press following the arrests, Peruvian Health Minister Oscar Ugarte called the case “totally reprehensible” and said no one would get away with it.

The Latin American nation has registered the world’s highest fatality rate among Covid-19 patients per capita. More than 195,000 people have died, and more than two million Covid cases have been recorded among the nation’s 32.5 million-strong population. During pandemic peaks, when there has been a shortage of beds in state-run hospitals, many have paid large sums to access Covid treatment at private clinics.

While the virus has been raging worldwide, various corruption scandals have emerged. A similar scam involving hospital beds was recently uncovered in India. An official in Bengaluru claimed beds had been allocated to Covid patients in exchange for bribes, after an “artificial shortage” had been created, local media reported in May. According to the official, hospital care had been provided to asymptomatic patients, while those who were severely ill and needed urgent treatment had been denied it. Those asking for payment had since been arrested, he claimed. Meanwhile in Uganda, a different Covid-related scam has been uncovered, with hundreds having been injected with “more water than anything else,” instead of real vaccines.

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