As the number of COVID-19 deaths in Peru rapidly mounts, the Virgen de Lourdes cemetery has become a monument to the pandemic’s devastating toll among the poor.
The cemetery is among the biggest in the world – with more than a million tombs – and it is located in one of Lima’s most impoverished neighbourhoods.
Now, with COVID-19’s escalating death toll, the cemetery is becoming even more gargantuan.
Those dying from the virus are being buried at a distance, in one of the sprawling cemetery’s most remote hills. Relatives and cemetery workers carry caskets up the steep terrain and place them in freshly dug graves.
Before one tomb, a man thumbs the strings of a worn wooden harp. Family members cry, collapse, and sometimes, let out a sorrowful laugh. Some throw beer into the pit, an ancient ritual honouring the newly departed.
Stray dogs linger, sitting alongside graves when relatives have left.
Known among locals as Nueva Esperanza Cemetery – or New Hope Cemetery – the graveyard was built in the 1960s and later filled with the remains of Peruvians who died after migrating to Lima in escape of a brutal war against Shining Path fighters.
There are children and teens mourning parents. One woman burying two brothers. Many of the victims are no older than 55.
Peru now has more than 170,000 confirmed cases with more than 4,600 reported deaths.