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Coffins, fear and desperation: the Covid frontline in 10 pictures

© AFP / JENS SCHLUETERParis, France, Jan 22 – The coronavirus pandemic has shattered economies, left more than two million dead and paralysed lives. Vaccination drives are now trying to bring hope of a new dawn.

Ten AFP photographs taken this month, and paired with quotes from 10 people from the scene, spotlight the fight against Covid-19, showing how ordinary people across the world despair as well as hope, and mourn as well as battle to save lives.

– Coffins in Germany –

“We have stacked up a whole lot of coffins — that means we have moved 750 tonnes of deceased (people),” says Joerg Schaldach, who runs a crematorium in Meissen, a town in eastern Germany. “The corona deniers… can come and touch all these for themselves.”

“We’re now getting 400 in a week for cremation” — in his words twice the typical number during winter.

– Hunt for oxygen in Brazil –

© AFP / Michael DANTAS

“Saturday was our worst moment because the oxygen was running out,” says Roberto Freitas, 32, who spent two days searching for oxygen for his sister-in-law’s father in Manaus, the epicentre of the coronavirus crisis in Brazil.

An employee at the town hall “told me that the oxygen would not arrive and that I can rent a refrigerated truck (for the body),” he said. “You don’t know what to think, only the worst. You just cry.”

– ‘Dying of hunger’ –

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© AFP / Philip FONG

“There is no work. Absolutely none,” says 46-year-old Yuichiro, until recently a construction worker in Tokyo who did not want to give his second name.

“This doesn’t get reported much in the media, but many people are sleeping at train stations and in cardboard boxes. Some are dying of hunger.”

– ‘Darkest period’ –


“It’s most definitely the darkest period of my entire career. Most definitely,” says palliative care supervisor Kari McGuire, fighting back tears over the “astronomical numbers” of patients dying at a rural hospital in Apple Valley, California.

– ‘So much death’ –

© AFP / Patrick T. FALLON

“It’s hard. We’re human, and we’re trying our best,” says nurse Vanessa Arias at Martin Luther King Jr Community Hospital in one of the poorest districts of Los Angeles. “But we’ve seen so much death during the past few weeks.”

– ‘Discharged or die’ –


“For there to be room, one person has to be discharged or die. It’s tough but it’s the truth,” said Angel Zuniga, a Red Cross coordinator in the Mexican city of Toluca.

– Wuhan recovers –


“Wuhan is the safest city in China now, even the whole world,” says 66-year-old resident Xiong Liansheng. The coronavirus was first identified in the Chinese city in late 2019. But one-year after Wuhan saw the world’s first lockdown, life is back to normal.

– What’s the point of fear? –

© AFP / Sanjay KANOJIA

“India is not like Europe… when it comes to immunity we are better,” said 50-year-old Sanjay Sharma, one of hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims defying concerns over the pandemic to take part in the Kumbh Mela festival.

“The greatest truth on earth is death. What’s the point of living with fear?”

– Refrigerator full –

© AFP / Patrick T. FALLON

“The weekend before, I turned down 16 families I couldn’t do services for. You pretty much throw everything into a bucket and you pick a name, it’s kind of sad but that’s pretty much how it is,” says Candy Boyd, owner of Boyd Funeral Home in Los Angeles.

“We have a walk-in refrigerator but it’s full,” she added. “This is really unbelievable.”

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– Respect the dead –


“It is unheard of that an adult is buried by only a few people,” said Harare resident Kepekepe, 49, who did not wish to give his full name. “It is against our culture to be buried by strangers in the midst of strangers. We want to be buried among our ancestors.”


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