“We were shocked,” said Daniel Voznyarskiy, a 22-year-old student from the University of Washington who returned to the United States last week after an involuntary two-week quarantine in southern Peru. “We had no warnings. They made us do a 360, sprayed us with bleach and sprayed our bags. I closed my eyes and plugged my nose. “
The Peruvian government did not respond to a request for comment.
The use of bleach to disinfect suspected carriers of the rapidly spreading virus has sparked outrage in other parts of the world. In India, where authorities recently sprayed dozens of migrants with bleach in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, authorities have stopped the practice and have promised to discipline those who practice it.
The World Health Organization has warned that spraying people with chlorine and other strong disinfectants can damage their eyes and mouth and “will not kill viruses that have already entered” the body. Bleach and alcohol can be an effective disinfectant on hard surfaces.
A State Department spokesperson said, “We have been in contact with local authorities in Cusco regarding this incident and will continue discussions with our Peruvian counterparts to ensure that health care practices are consistent to international standards ”.
The department was forced to return tens of thousands of Americans to the United States who, like Voznyarskiy, were stranded when foreign governments closed their borders and canceled flights in response to the new coronavirus pandemic.
The ministry has been the subject of early criticism of its response time and coordination with embassies, but has received praise in recent days for streamlining the evacuation process. On Tuesday, the department had repatriated more than 45,000 citizens from 75 countries on more than 460 flights.
Chemical watering marked a low point for Voznyarskiy and dozens of other tourists who were quarantined at the Pariwana hostel in Cusco for two weeks after the government identified two guests as carriers of the new coronavirus and prevented anyone from leaving.
Instead of removing guests who tested positive for the virus, local authorities have ordered a mandatory quarantine of at least 28 days for all guests, warning some that they may have to stay for several months.
The more than 120 guests at the inn, including several Americans, found it difficult to practice social distance in cramped quarters with bunk beds. Many guests stayed connected through a group messaging service, which lit up on the night of March 29 when guests began to alert themselves that they were lined up outside and sprayed of a mysterious chemical.
“We were all pretty scared in group chat,” said Patrick Beach, a 27-year-old Orlando resident who went to Cusco on vacation with his girlfriend. “You hear chlorine or bleach, and you know you’re not supposed to touch it. So the idea of being sprayed with it is very scary. “
Americans trapped in the inn appealed to their congressional representatives for help, drawing concerned lawmakers to states like New Jersey, Washington and Florida.
“This alarming situation requires urgent attention, and I have repeatedly brought it to the attention of the highest levels of the American and Peruvian governments,” said Senator Robert Menendez (DN.J.), whose voter, Kacie Brandenburg, was quarantined at the hotel.
Inn guests have complained about the Peruvian government’s confusing and insufficient information and poor food supplies in the inn during quarantine. Being kicked out of their room without warning about chemical treatment exacerbated the situation.
“In the end, it just ruined people’s clothes and everyone was fine, but the surprise was the worst thing,” said Beach.
Americans have been advised by authorities that they could be shot on sight if they left the hostel, even though they had documents proving that they had organized a repatriation flight organized by the United States government, said Beach. .
Finally, the Peruvian government, which suspended international flights last month with 24-hour notice, approved the flights chartered by the United States government and authorized the Americans to leave the hostel.
“I went to Peru to see Machu Picchu,” said Voznyarskiy. “I didn’t expect to be whitewashed. “
Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.