LIMA, PERU: Nine people, including public hospital staff, have been arrested in Peru accused of "selling" intensive care beds to desperate coronavirus patients for thousands of dollars apiece, police and prosecutors said on Thursday (Friday in Manila).

The nine, which also included the directors of a patient care NGO, were arrested on Wednesday and appeared in court the following day.

Prosecutor Reynaldo Abia told reporters an investigation was opened after a complaint from a woman who had a family member with Covid-19 and paid for a bed for them.

The gang allegedly asked her for 82,000 soles (some $20,500) to bump her loved one up on the waiting list for an intensive care bed at the Guillermo Almenara hospital in Lima.

Peru was very hard hit by the coronavirus epidemic, which earlier this year saw its hospitals under extreme pressure and oxygen supplies running low.

In April, the country had a record 15,547 coronavirus patients in hospital at one point, down to about 7,000 today.

With some 2 million infections and nearly 200,000 deaths, Peru is the country in the world with the highest coronavirus mortality rate.

"It is abominable that someone could trade in ICU beds. I believe the punishment should be drastic," said Health Minister Oscar Ugarte.