What is Being Done in Latin America in the Face of the Coronavirus Pandemic?

By Mision Verdad – March 18, 2020

There are multiple factors that influence an understanding of why the virus spreads more or less quickly in each country. There, circumstantial variables enter, such as the type of climate in the region, the influx of foreign travelers or the susceptibility of the population (Italy and Europe in general have higher mortality risks due to having a large elderly population).

However, the elements related to the prevention and containment protocols that each country takes will also encourage or decrease transmission in the territory, an issue that we have addressed in a previous report, when reviewing the strategy that Venezuela has designed based on the Chinese and European experience.

Chile, Ecuador and Peru: reactions to the exponential growth of contagion

Following the statistics published by the US Johns Hopkins University in real time, the Chilean outlet BioBio Chile determined that, by number of inhabitants, “Chile leads the list of countries in South America in spread (with) 1 case for every 114 a thousand people.”

As of today , the country has 201 confirmed cases, for which Piñera decreed the State of Constitutional Exception of Catastrophe .

Santiago reported the first case identified on March 3. It was a Chilean doctor who arrived from Singapore on February 25. From the identification of the infected to the government of Sebastián Piñera moving on to measures that still do not come close to the ones Venezuela is taking, 12 days and 155 infections passed.

Says the Chilean statesman Eduardo Engel:

“Chile in five days went from 23 to 155 cases. Italy in five days went from 21 to 470 cases. In this comparison we start almost at the same level (23 and 21) and we are already in exponential growth. The first conclusion is that we are better than Italy, but that the number of cases has more than doubled between yesterday and today is very worrying. “

What measures has the Piñera government taken? The first momentous actions occurred after almost two weeks of the coronavirus spread.

On March 14, the Chilean executive reported that the country had entered phase 3 of the disease ( community contagion ) with 43 cases of contagion. The battery of measures announced to counter the situation was made up of partial isolations for the groups that had contact with infected cases.

Thus, in the labor sector, only employees who “have had proven close contact with cases of COVID-19” would assume a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Similarly with the education sector: classes would be suspended for a full course of students for 14 days if a case of COVID-19 was confirmed. If there were two or more, the school campus would go into isolation.

Meetings of groups of more than 500 people were prohibited, greater immigration control of people arriving from contagious countries and permission for public officials over 75 to carry out their work from home.

On Monday, March 16, Piñera addressed the nation to announce that they had entered phase 4 of the pandemic (the “hardest” stage according to the president, in which the sustained transmission of COVID-19 occurs) and that they would take new measures , including:

Closing of land, sea and air borders for 15 days from March 18.
Sanctions for those who do not comply with the quarantine.
Suspension of classes for 14 days in all educational establishments.
Ban on public events with more than 200 people.

Until now, the health protocol maintains the partial quarantine system, even allowing the normal operation of shopping centers and supermarkets throughout the country.

Regarding these restrictions, Cristóbal Cuadrado, an academic at the University of Chile’s School of Public Health, estimates that “there is much to implement. There are quarantines that we know are not being followed and the government has to do it, because that is the most effective way to prevent the virus from spreading.”

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Evolution of COVID-19 cases in Chile. Graphic: Wikipedia

So far, Ecuador registers 111 cases and 2 deceased, both over 50 years old.

The country announced the first case on February 29, a woman who had traveled from Spain two weeks before (February 14). She presented symptoms two days after arriving in Guayaquil.

Several contradictions emerged about the handling of this case by the health authorities, which the Ecuadorian newspaper Expreso compiled in a report.

The Minister of Health, Catalina Andramuño reported that all the relatives of the infected “were complying with the isolation.” However, an executive official confirmed that her sister, who had had contact with her, was not in quarantine.

Andramuño was also blamed for the lack of rigor in the early detection and tracking of the other 288 passengers who traveled aboard the plane in which the patient was. The health authority did not make clear whether the group had been contacted and whether they were complying with the isolation protocol.

Both patient zero and sister died from COVID-19 .

On March 7, a week after finding patient zero in the city of Guayaquil, a disinfection of the Metrovía was carried out, a public transport that transports around 400 thousand users daily.

RELATED CONTENT: Brazil’s Bolsonaro Closes the Border With Venezuelan “Dictatorship” Allegedly Due Covid-19 Concerns

Four days later, President Lenín Moreno decreed a health emergency throughout the territory. Through this decision, greater control measures were established at national entry points, application of restrictions for mass events, prevention measures in public transport and labor flexibility for employees who require it.

Local specialists question the lack of access to data on the evolution of the outbreak. “Access to information on any type of outbreak is essential because it allows us to evaluate models, geographic distribution, and severity of patients (…) when you see that there is no data here, you take them from other countries and that is often not replicable in our reality ”, says Dr. Esteban Ortiz, an expert in public health.

From March 15 to 16, official cases rose from 21 to 58 people , an increase of 56.7% in less than 24 hours.

Now, the entire country is under curfew, state of emergency and vehicle restriction, “extreme measures” that if not complied with, “we could have 800 thousand infected,” said Lenín Moreno in a speech.

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Ecuador’s health authorities are questioning the management of the pandemic. Photo: API

For its part, the Peruvian government has a record of 117 confirmed cases , the second highest rate of COVID-19 by number of inhabitants after Chile. 70 of the cases are concentrated in Lima, the capital city.

Patient zero was reported on March 6. The President of Peru declared a state of national emergency on Sunday, March 15; this implies the immobilization of the citizenry and the total closure of the borders for 15 days.

Among the measures taken under the state of emergency, the implementation of a subsidy of 380 soles (approximately US $ 100) to 9 million Peruvians stands out to tackle the economic complications that may arise in the 15 days of compulsory isolation ordered by Vizcarra.

Bolivia, Brazil and Mexico minimize the impact of the coronavirus

Internal political conflicts between de facto president Jeanine Áñez and other power factors in Bolivia have not allowed a single program to be defined to deal with the 13 confirmed cases in the country and contain its expansion in the territory.

Until the arrival of the virus, Áñez rejected the prevention and containment measures tested with positive results in Asian countries. Instead, she issued disjointed orders prohibiting, for example, the closure of sites for nighttime recreation without touching working hours.

Migration restrictions have been influenced by regional pressure from countries that have taken such measures in advance. On March 14, Bolivia banned flights to and from Europe, as well as the entry of passengers from China, Korea, Italy and Spain.

National authorities, pressured by various regional governments to decree the closure of borders, agreed only to prohibit flights to and from Europe and veto entry to citizens and travelers from China, Korea, Italy and Spain.

Regional authorities in Oruro, Sucre, Tarija and Cochabamba announced the application of a ” 14-day urban quarantine ” to stop the pandemic following a line of action opposed to that of the central government.

To these four regions, Santa Cruz was added later.

The government of the far-right Jair Bolsonaro has been linked to multiple controversies over the breach of health protocols proposed by the WHO, on the grounds that there is a “neurosis” due to the pandemic.

The country has registered 234 coronavirus cases and one fatality. The contingency plan implemented by the Bolsonaro administration to attack the virus does not include the suspension of work or educational activities, nor the prohibition of large concentrations of people or the iron control of international borders and airports.

Some governorates have taken their own security measures, including closing schools and limiting concentrations. Given this, the Brazilian president said that he does not agree on the decisions because “it affects economic activity (…) many have already contracted this despite the care they take, this will go away sooner or later.”

Bolsonaro and his cabinet omit the health recommendations even on a personal level, which has resulted in 11 people linked to the Brazilian executive testing positive for the coronavirus and for the Brazilian president himself to undergo two tests, with a negative result but remaining under quarantine.

That last medical order was also ignored by Jair Bolsonaro, going to gatherings where he had close physical contact with his followers.

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Bolsonaro violated his quarantine to attend a march in favor of his government. Photo: José Cruz / Agência Brasil

Recall that the president traveled to the United States on March 7, even though, by that date, it had been more than a week since Brazil had discovered the first contagion of COVID-19 in Latin America.

In the state of Florida, he met with military figures from the Southern Command and with President Donald Trump.

Back in Brazil, the virus was detected in Bolsonaro’s press chief and five other officials, who were present at the presidents’ meeting.

According to health specialists, if strict measures like those implemented by Asian countries are not taken, the disease can spread without control.

“If they do nothing, it can be terrible. We are no longer in the phase of containment, of avoiding, but of softening its effects and reducing the number of people affected”, explains physicist Roberto Kraenkel, a student of the behavior of epidemics.

Brazil follows the British model of Boris Johnson, who planned to let the virus spread to “create immunity.” Faced with international pressure, the English premier has changed the focus to isolation measures.

Something similar occurs with the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

“The coronavirus COVID-19 has been in Mexico since February 28 and cannot be contained,” says the official website of the presidency. AMLO’s strategy is based on prevention campaigns “to reduce the risk of contagion”. They recommend reinforcing hygiene rules and limiting physical contact in greetings.

RELATED CONTENT: Colombia’s President Reignites Protests Against Himself Over Coronavirus Decisions

The plan “national day of healthy distance“, proposed by the federal Ministry of Health, indicates the suspension of school activities and others that are not essential, also calls for preventing children from having contact with older adults. The sanitary protocol will begin on Monday, March 23.

Thus, distancing measures are limited to specific groups and there is no interruption of work activities, nor restrictions on large concentrations of people.

The example has also been set by President AMLO. He continues to participate in public events and disregard the minimum sanitary measures to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus.

On Monday, March 16, the Ministry of Health reported that 29 people had been diagnosed with COVID-19, increasing the official number, which closed the previous day with 53 infected, to 82 official cases. In addition to this, there are three citizens who have a pending diagnosis and 171 possible cases that are being evaluated.

Health authorities had 9,100 tests to detect COVID-19 in different laboratories in the country, however they have applied less than 10% to rule out suspicious cases, according to an average calculated by the portal Animal Político.

Faced with complaints about the handling of coronavirus tests, Undersecretary of Health Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez said that comparing the amount of tests that are done with the efficacy of health protocols lacked “technical and scientific sense”.

The states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Yucatan, Tamaulipas and Michoacán decided to suspend classes this Tuesday to avoid infections, although the federal government has scheduled the closure of schools from March 20 to April 20.

Argentina defines a moderate protocol against the virus

65 cases had been reported by Argentina in the report on the advance of the coronavirus on March 16. At the time of disclosure, the Ministry of Health said that the country was still in the “containment phase” and there was no evidence of community transmission, as most of the cases are imported.

One of the new cases is a doctor who tested positive in the Chaco province. The patient suspected of being “an community case, did not travel anywhere or was in contact with any of the cases that tested positive in Chaco.” The Minister of Health announced that she will take the diagnosis as a “possible case of viral circulation ” (community contagion).

Until Sunday, the government of Alberto Fernández had not finalized a package of actions to attack the virulence of the disease.

That day a group of measures were announced, all framed in partial isolation: interruption of classes at all school levels for two weeks, closure of borders for 15 days, work license for people over 60, cancellation of crowds, closure of national parks and commercial restrictions except for small businesses.

The Argentine president assured that “a generalized quarantine for the country is too much (…) it would have very negative economic consequences, which do not even help to solve the problem of the pandemic.”

According to a query prepared by the pollster D’Alessio Irol, 48% of the respondents considered the measures “adequate and timely”, while 46% considered that they were “adequate but late”.

COVID-19 will not stop the deportation of migrants from the United States to Central America

The Central American region was one of the last to receive the pandemic, but it has spread rapidly anyway. In 76 hours there was a 77% increase in infected cases, from 73 to 129 diagnosed people, according to an update released on Monday, March 16 by the General Secretariat of the Central American Integration System (SICA).

Ricardo Castañeda, an economist at the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies, believes that the region is poorly prepared to fight a health epidemic and an economic recession at the same time.

Panama (55) and Costa Rica (41) are the countries that report the most cases, the first having one death from the disease. Belize, Nicaragua and El Salvador did not report cases when the report was released.

Honduras and Guatemala will have to face the pandemic with governments penetrated by corruption, with poor public health systems. Both have the worst score in the region in the Access and Quality of Health Care Index (HQA).

According to Castañeda, Guatemala has “the capacity to serve the population that existed in 1970, but not the population that exists in 2020.” Meanwhile Honduras has failed to control a deadly dengue outbreak that plagues its inhabitants: nine people have died and there are 9 thousand 595 confirmed cases until the closing of this note.

The leaders of the governments that make up SICA held a virtual meeting on March 12, with the exception of the President of El Salvador, in order to “coordinate efforts to implement regional containment measures, to prevent the spread and guarantee the health of all the inhabitants of the region”.

They asked the Central American Bank for Economic Integration “to provide the resources that countries require to deal with this emergency.”

Nayib Bukele, who refused to sign the agreement, has decided to take his own measures in El Salvador. He decreed a national quarantine and prohibited the entry of tourists from countries where there are coronavirus infections.

However, deportations from the United States were not canceled. This was stated by the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection of the United States, Mark Morgan, in a telephone press conference quoted by the El Faro newspaper.

Flights to deport Central Americans will continue regularly despite the fact that “the threat of a health risk on the southern border is very real,” Morgan said.

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A passenger at El Salvador’s international airport takes his temperature with a mask to protect himself from the coronavirus. Photo: Marvin Recinos / AFP

The health crisis also did not stop Nayib Bukele’s meeting with Trump officials, held on March 6, to fine-tune the details of the plan that will allow the transfer of migrants seeking refuge in the United States to settlements in El Salvador, while their request is being processed.

It is not a matter of political trends, but Colombia believes differently.

Iván Duque decided to turn a delicate health situation that hits almost all the nations of the world into an opportunity to attack the Venezuelan government.

The Colombian government ordered a unilateral closure of the borders with Venezuela, which is why the Pan American Health Organization had to intercede, at the request of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Leaving the 2,129 kilometers that separate the two nations without authority, in the midst of the COVID-19 health crisis, would only worsen the regional situation.

“The figure of the Colombian president as a sensible statesman is questioned in front of the international community,” maintains this rostrum in an analysis of this fact.

The Colombian Ministry of Health announced on Tuesday that the country has 65 official cases. The measures to confront it are much less drastic than those that the Venezuelan model has adopted.

In fact, the doctors’ union has asked him to take extreme action so far, since they see “with alarm the significant increase in COVID-19 cases in the country.”

In a letter signed by several Colombian medical associations, Iván Duque is asked to raise the restrictions “to a definite-time isolation with the relevant exceptions, since it has been the most effective tool for controlling the pandemic.” In addition, the document requires sufficient state resources to address “the needs of a real health emergency.”

Regional fracture during the pandemic

In Latin America as a whole the propagation curve of COVID-19 is beginning to raise.

By reviewing the health and security programs that Latin American governments are taking to flatten the curve and slow down expansion, we are also witnessing how effective their economic, social and migration policies are, many of them anchored in the worn out neoliberal model imposed by the United States.

It does not go unnoticed that Sebastián Piñera organized a teleconference with presidents of South American countries with the aim of coordinating a regional work scheme to combat the pandemic and did not call on President Nicolás Maduro.

Before the meeting, President Alberto Fernández contacted Piñera and told him that “due to the seriousness of the issue, in the case of public health and with Venezuela bordering three countries in the region,” they had to all be present at the teleconference.

The fragmented and politically disoriented continent, on the occasion of a pandemic, can only result in disorderly national programs that collide with each other; some of them dangerous due to their irresponsibility. Discord makes recovery difficult for the whole.

Meanwhile Venezuela, with the same adverse conditions of blockade, international siege and disarticulation of the regional bloc, is betting on a different model in the region to put social value above economic value in situations of global emergency.

Source URL: Medium / Mision Verdad

Translated by JRE/EF

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