LIMA, Peru — A total of 13 people were crushed to death after police raided a packed nightclub flouting tough coronavirus restrictions in the Peruvian capital, Lima.
An estimated 120 panicking partygoers stormed the bar’s only exit, a narrow stairway leading out onto the street, after cops arrived at around 9pm on Saturday night (August 22) at the Thomas Restobar, in the gritty Los Olivos district.
But the door at the bottom of the stairs was locked. Some survivors blamed the police, and also accused the officers of using teargas, something the interior ministry denied in a statement.
The bar was flouting a nationwide 10pm curfew as well as a ban on social gatherings. A week ago, the government also reimposed a total, nationwide lockdown on Sundays, starting at midnight on Saturday, a third law that the nightclub was about to violate.
Police said the nightclub had been openly operating since Peru partially eased a 15-week nationwide lockdown at the end of June. Twenty-three people were arrested following the incident, including the two owners of the bar. In addition to the fatalities, six other people were injured, three of them officers.
Neighbors said the bar publicized its events on Facebook, and that they had repeatedly called the police to shut it down. However, witnesses said the organizers would switch off the lights and turn down the volume whenever patrol cars were spotted approaching.
Peru has been devastated by the pandemic, with 576,067 official Covid 19 cases — the six highest tally in the world — and 27,245 deaths, which have overwhelmed hospitals. That is despite the country having implemented strict measures to slow the spread of disease, with President Martín Vizcarra regularly pleading with citizens to halt their “irresponsibility” and stop socializing, now thought to be the principal cause of transmission here.
Visiting the scene, Rosario Sasieta, the women’s minister, blamed the tragedy on “greed”. “I demand the maximum penalty for the owners of this locale … we are talking about willful homicide motivated by profit,” she told Peruvian broadcaster RPP.
Most Peruvians fear the coronavirus, according to polls, with many complementing compulsory masks with face shields and even impermeable overalls in public. But many are also used to ignoring or skirting the law - an attitude born of authorities’ frequent corruption, ineptitude and arbitrary enforcement.
During the pandemic, tens of thousands of people have been arrested for violating curfews and lockdowns, including even senior police officers caught in secret drinking sessions.
The interior ministry said it would seek to have those responsible put in pretrial detention as an investigation into the incident took place.
Cover: The bodies of some of the victims that suffocated in a crush during a raid on a nightclub in Lima late on August 22, are seen early on August 23, 2020 on the back of a pick-up truck outside the place where a party was being held despite a ban on such gatherings imposed to fight the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by LUKA GONZALES/AFP via Getty Images)