Nine people, including public hospital staff, have been arrested in Peru, accused of "selling" intensive care beds to desperate coronavirus patients for 82,000 soles (around €18,000).

The accused - among them the directors of a patient care NGO - were arrested yesterday and appeared in court today, according to police and prosecutors.

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 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 two 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. "We cannot be negotiating with people's lives."

Corruption scandals around virus care have already rattled the highest levels of power in Peru.

Outrage over prior allegations that some top officials had been granted preferential "VIP" vaccinations prompted the country's health and foreign ministers to resign earlier this year.

The hospital involved in the more recent scandal, administered by the EsSalud social security system, provides free care.

Patients must endure a long waiting list for the 80 ICU beds the hospital offers.

During the peak of the pandemic, many patients paid large sums of money to private clinics as the public system neared collapse.