'There are two realities.' What is really happening in Nicaragua during the pandemic?

Gravediggers carry a coffin during a funeral at the Jardines del Recuerdo Cemetery in Managua on June 5, 2020.

(CNN)Nicaragua has seen its fair share of unrest, fear and struggles throughout its troubled history. Now, faced with the deadly coronavirus, the government is coming under fire for its casual approach to containing the pandemic.

In the past three months, at least six politicians have died, although the details are vague on some of the causes. "Express burials" are happening at night, witnesses told CNN, and doctors have been allegedly fired for raising alarm about the virus' spread. Medical experts have also questioned government-released details about the country's coronavirus infection rate.
"There are always two versions," a doctor who asked that his name be omitted for fear of losing his job told CNN, regarding information offered from the government. "The non-official is truer to reality and the government [version] is cause for confusion."
    The government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has described these allegations and reports of "express burials" as "false news."
      Six months into a crisis that has shaken the world, the 74-year-old president has refused to impose strict, preventive quarantine measures seen in neighboring countries. Public schools remain open, businesses continue to operate, festivals and cultural events are happening on an almost-weekly basis.
      Even without a lockdown, businesses are suffering and the idea of closing down any work sector could lead to "an economic pandemic," Ortega told the nation during an address on May 18 -- the last time he was seen live.
      At the start of the pandemic, Ortega had also spent more than 40 days out of the public eye, and no explanation was given for his absence.
        The country has been reeling from an economic downspin following socio-political unrest in 2018 and US sanctions that are crippling the country. During his address, Ortega said neighboring Costa Rica's border closure, effective through June 30, had created a "very tough situation." Around 1,000 truck drivers were left stranded at the border, paralyzing commerce throughout the region, he added.
        What Ortega failed to mention was that Costa Rica had placed preventative measures to control the spread of Covid-19 after 50 drivers tested positive for the virus. Eleven of them were Nicaraguan, Costa Rican authorities said.
        The Pan American Health Organization has also expressed alarm about border areas. "We are witnessing a sharp spike in transmission in the north of Costa Rica around the border of Nicaragua," Dr. Carissa Etienne, the PAHO director said at a briefing on Tuesday.

        'Express burials'

        A lack of transparency from Ortega's administration has made it hard for anyone to grasp the true scope of the problem. Here's what we know:
        For many who died of the virus, there has been no Mass, no wake and no funeral arrangements, residents and a priest told CNN. There are simply what have become known as "express burials": a swift trip to the cemetery at night accompanied by police officers. A few relatives can be present, but no filming is allowed.
        Domingo Rodríguez, 44, was an immigration agent at Managua's Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport. In early May he started showing symptoms of Covid-19 and was diagnosed with the virus. Ten days later, he passed away, according to the family.
        The cause of death was given as "atypical pneumonia" and his brother, Vladimir Rodríguez, wondered why it didn't specify Covid-19 on the certificate. When the family inquired, the staff said they were simply following orders, the brother said.
        Even though Rodríguez's death certificate did not list coronavirus as a cause, the family said they were asked by doctors to bring nails to seal the coffin and given three hours to bury him that night.
        "You couldn't see his face, he was already wrapped in a black bag," Vladimir told CNN en Español. "All they tell you is that three [or] four family members can go at a distance."
        Vladimir said a police patrol followed them to the cemetery to ensure nobody was taking pictures "so they don't make it public," he added.
        Despite the police presence, a family member managed to shoot a video shared with CNN showing the darkness surrounding the cemetery and men in yellow hazmat suits carrying the casket, an unsettling farewell to a loved one.
        The government has rejected such reports. First Lady and Vice President Rosario Murillo said the scenes of night burials were "videos from other countries, pretending to make you believe they are videos from Nicaragua." Addressing the nation in mid-May, she added, "there are those who specialize in what we have said, pandemics of fear, of hate, from false news."
        But Monseñor Carlos Aviles Cantón, a Catholic church leader, told CNN the absence of information from the government was a problem in its own right.
        While churches were never officially closed by order of the government, many parishes in Nicaragua have taken it upon themselves to tell their followers to stay home. Monseñor Aviles Cantón offers two Masses a week via Facebook Live and the rest is inside the church, with just three or four people attending.
        As for the express burials, he said they happen so quickly he can't get to the cemeteries in time to officiate. Sometimes, he does a video chat with the family and they pray. Sometimes, it's just the hearse passing by the church and they pray.
        But his workload has nearly tripled. Before the pandemic, there were usually 3-4 names of the deceased he would read out loud and pray for during Mass. Now, there are 10-12 names of those that have died and 5-6 requests to pray for those who are sick, he said.

        What doctors and medical organizations say

        What started as daily government-sponsored press events about the coronavirus turned a few weeks ago into a rapid-fire weekly briefing. This week, for example, the government's update took only seven and a half minutes.
        As of Tuesday, Nicaragua's health ministry has reported 1,823 confirmed coronavirus cases and 64 deaths. But medical experts told CNN the number is significantly higher.
        "There are two realities, wha