Mexico is one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus. The death rate in the city of Neyahualcoyotl has left the municipal cemetery struggling. Photographer Jonathan Alpeyrie documented the desperate scenes.
No space for the dead
At the municipal cemetery in the city of Nezahualcoyotl, which lies just to the east of the capital Mexico City, the graves are stacked on top of each other to ensure there is enough space to lay people to rest. But the coronavirus pandemic is pushing it beyond breaking point. Workers are forced to remove coffins, including those of babies, to make space for new arrivals.
Coffins in the streets
A baby’s coffin that had occupied a plot for a while has been removed and left on the street. If families do not tend to the plot the remains are removed so a new coffin can replace them. The cemetery makes an effort to contact the family to ask what they want to happen next but, if they don’t receive an answer, the remains are burned and the ashes reburied in mass graves.
Hit hard by coronavirus
Mexico has been hit very hard by COVID-19. As of July 25 it was the fourth-worst affected country, with 42,645 deaths and 378,285 total infections. Nezahualcoyotl has suffered especially. A slum before it was made a city, it is Mexico’s most densely populated municipality, with over 15,000 people per square kilometer. The virus has been able to spread easily here.
A hotspot around Mexico City
Many locals live from their small businesses, says photographer Jonathan Alpeyrie, making it impossible for them not to work for long periods of time. Throughout the crisis, he reports, many were trying to carry on with their daily lives to make ends meet. This has taken a huge toll — the virus has been rampant, and Nezahualcóyotl is one of the more affected areas around Mexico City.
Lockdown ‘lifted too quickly’
Public health messages are spread around the area, such as on this poster, which reads: “That this is not your last exit.” But there have been many critics of the government’s response. Many argue it implemented its lockdown too slowly and lifted restrictions too quickly. Nezahualcoyotl’s mayor, Juan Hugo de la Rosa, told the New York Times he also felt restrictions were eased too soon.
Crematorium workers feel the heat
People have died at such a rate that it has not been possible to find graves for everyone. Many of the dead are cremated. Crematorium workers in Nezahualcoyotl told AFP news agency they are cremating eight or more bodies a day. Coming into contact with so many grieving families is tough, they say, and they are also worried about catching the virus themselves.
Choosing home over hospital
Many families are dealing with family members suffering from COVID-19, but the scale of the crisis has knocked people’s confidence in the health services. According to Alpeyrie, ambulances and hospitals are seen as places where the virus spreads fastest. After a positive diagnosis for COVID-19 in the home, many families refuse to let people be taken to hospital.
It was a similar scenario for this young man, says Alpeyrie. He was a victim of a hit-and-run and received treatment on the scene from paramedics. While they were assessing him, they determined he was likely to have contracted COVID-19. His family was called and arrived at the scene of the accident while he was being looked after by the paramedics.
Looking out for the family
His family refused to let the paramedics put him into an ambulance and take him to an emergency room, says Alpeyrie. Instead, they decided to take him home in a car and look after him themselves, believing it is better for him to be there than in the hospital in Nezahualcoyotl.
Photojournalist Jonathan Alpeyrie, author of “The Shattered Lens,” has been documenting the coronavirus crisis in Mexico and shared these images with CBS News. Click here for all 61 photos.