Coronavirus in Latin America: Traffic light of measures

In this opportunity, I want to speak with you about the Coronavirus in Latin America. The pandemic appeared in Latin America at the end of the summer. So, probably, with the arrival of the winter, the worst is still to come. However, I believe this is an excellent point to evaluate the measures taken by some countries. It is important to say at this point that all the data regarding infected and death was taken from official sources on 05/05/2020. These numbers will change, but the main objective of this article is to evaluate the result of different policies.


So, to make it easier to understand, I will divide the countries into three groups: red- those who didn’t take the necessary measures or they have a significant number on infected and dead. Yellow- for those who took steps, but it’s difficult to assess its effectivity and green- those who took positive measures, proven by the number of infected and dead. Let’s start.

Nicaragua
The first state to enter this list is Nicaragua. The country ruled by Daniel Ortega didn’t take many measures to enact social distancing. The borders remained open, the hotels too, and tourists were allowed to the country without the need for quarantine[1]. Even on March 14, after the WHO declared the pandemic, the government called for a support march of the President [2]. However, after many critics, the government will start a campaign to encourage washing hands and the use of face masks on public spaces [3]. Officially, the country has only 14 infected, and four died. Still, it is hard to believe in this statistic given the authoritarian regime ruling the country and Observatorio Ciudadano, a civil organization, estimates that there are over 400 cases [4]

Brazil

Brazil is the biggest country in Latin America, both in size and population. With more than 200 million people and almost a quarter of working in the black market is tough to impose a severe quarantine. The president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, called the pandemic “little flu” and refuses to impose a strict quarantine due to its harm to the economy. The difficult situation of the country ignited a political crisis at the national level and the firing of the Health Minister after expressing his opinion that more robust measures are needed [5].


The country over one hundred thousand infected people and about eight thousand dead. The State of Sao Paulo is one of the most dangerous, with over thirty thousand cases [6]. In the state of Manaus, at the Brazilian Amazonas, the number of deaths has quadruple from 30 to over 140 bodies per day.[7]. And the situation is not getting better. Recent studies suggest that the country may surpass the million infected [8].

Ecuador
This county is in the red section, not because the country didn’t take enough action. The government actually did, imposing a national curfew since March 17th [9]. The problem is that they took them too late because the virus entered the country in the middle/end of February. Also, there were no protocols both for the protection of the medical teams and for the treatment of bodies [10]. Today Ecuador has about over thirty thousand infected and over 1500 deaths[11]. More than thirteen thousand cases are concentrated in the province of Guayas. The most affected city was Guayaquil, the capital of the area, with over eight thousand infected and over six hundred deaths [12].


The are many reasons why Guayaquil was hit so hard. First, a significant percentage of the Ecuadorian community in Spain is from this area, and the first case was a woman that came from Madrid [13]. Also, the regions it has 11% of its population on poverty, and around 20% of its workforce is unemployed, and a considerable number of workers in the black market. So, it was tough for them to fulfill the curfew, and they also sub estimated the pandemic. Over three thousand people were detained in one day from the violation of it [14]. So the region is still under a harsh control, waiting for the number of infected people to decline. Meanwhile, the rest of the country entered a new face of the quarantine that will allow the opening of some stores to reactivate the economy [15]


Argentina

Argentina presents itself with almost five thousand cases and over 240 deaths. These numbers look quite good for a country with a population of over 45 million people. However, there are doubts about their validity. The mortality rate is 5,1%, which is quite high compared with other countries (Chile 1.32%, Peru 2,8%, Uruguay 2,71%).[16] A reason for this high rate, maybe the little number of tests that Argentina performs, 1.3 per thousand against 10.79 of Chile.


The country has established an early and severe quarantine since March 20th. However, and giving the big economic crisis of the state, it also allowed for the people in lower financial status an authorization to continue to receive foods at schools [17]. The measure was much accepted by the population at the beginning, but after more than forty days, the people started to express their frustration. So, the country is moving into a geographical quarantine, allowing more freedom to areas with less population [18]. Recently, the number of cases in poor neighborhoods began to grow, increasing the risk of a peak that can collapse the already fragile sanitary infrastructure during the coming winter [19].

Venezuela

The starting point of Venezuela cannot be worst. The country has a President that it is not recognized by the western countries and it is in a great economic crisis, including hyperinflation that led multiple Venezuelans with no much to eat. Also, the hospitals in the country are not well equipped for normal days, so it worse during a pandemic.

However, Venezuela is presenting very optimistic statistics with just over 350 infected and 10 deaths [20]. Maduro’s government also claimed that it has received about half a million coronavirus tests and that it has already done over 400 thousand exams been the country with more tests per thousand of Latin America [21]. The government also declared that the hospitals are ready to treat patients, but there are multiple reports about the lack of water and soap on them [22]. In the context of the totalitarian regime of the country, the economic situation of the country and it’s infrastructure, these statistics are doubtfully correct.

Panama

It was expected that the COVID 19 will arrive in Panama, due to its strategic position as a regional hub both for planes and for ships. However, the number of infected is quite high, comparing it with the size of the country. It has seven thousand infected and two hundred death, similar to Colombia, who has almost 10 times more population [23].

The first infection was reported on March 8th, and the first death two days later[23]. On March 13th, the President declared the State of Emergency in all the national territory[24]. The government also restricted the entrance of foreign people, suspended the classes, and closed the hotels and other non-essential businesses like casinos and bars.[25]. The government also declared a curfew on March 18th and provided financial help to the vulnerable sectors. Since March 30th, the quarantine became even severe when the President assigned special days to let men and women go outside, as well as a dry law, prohibiting the selling of alcoholic beverages[25]. However, the numbers continue to grow, and probable they have not yet reached the peak. It is important to highlight that Panama is performing a large number of tests (7,99 per thousand) to detect newly infected citizens. [26]

Chile

Chile has 19.5 million people and has over 20 thousand cases, with a little more than 250 deaths, a very low rate compared with the region [27]. About half of the cases are at the Santiago Metropolitan Area, a region with eight million people [28]. So the country decided to implement a light quarantine in most of the country, choosing to strengthen its geographically, according to the spread of the virus. Even though older adults and other risks sections under strict quarantine all over the country. In the restrictive areas, people have to request authorizations to go to the supermarket, pharmacy, to do some sport, moving to another house, etc. Each one is time-restricted, and the citizens can only have seven of these authorizations per week [29].


All of these measures are possible, given a large number of tests that Chile performs. Since the beginning of the crisis, they have performed around 200 thousand tests [30]. To comparison, an official document from the Chilean government dated April 11th, 2020, estimated that the country performed ten times more tests per million than Argentina ( 3925 against 397) resulting in a lower fatality rate [31].

Uruguay

Uruguay, a country with only 3 million people, started very bad. One of the first cases, was in March a clothes designer that after arriving from Milano went to a 500 persons wedding. Two days after the party, she felt the symptoms and was diagnosticated, but from over 40 got infected from that event [32].


Today, the country has fewer than 700 infected and less than 20 deaths [33]. Uruguay reacted by declaring a “health emergency,” closing its borders and imposing a 14 days quarantine for the persons coming from the risk areas and closed schools. However, it did not impose a quarantine on its citizens [34]. Uruguay’s strategy also includes a large number of tests to the population (6.32 per thousand against 3.54 of Ecuador and 1.30 of Argentina) [35]. Given the good results, the government started to reopen the economy and its works at 85% of its capacity. [36]

Costa Rica


Costa Rica stands today as the country with the lowest mortality rate of COVID-19 (0.86%) with only 750 cases and just six death. How did they do it?. As explained in the last article, Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948 and instead invested heavily in health (over 6% of GDP). Today, the country faces this crisis with a strong network of hospitals, and homecare medicine, which helped to reduce the burdens to the hospitals. The result, Costa Rica has 400 ventilators and just eight in use [37], and the system already is now working on the development of their own [38].


But having a good health system is not enough. The government responded quickly by canceling social meetings, tourist activities, and closed the borders. Also, the public fulfilled the instructions of the government, and they stayed at their home [39]. The country still has challenges, for example, increasing the number of tests performed, but it showed that it has an effective system to deal with the pandemic.

To conclude, Latin America is an extensive area, and it is tough to cover over 20 countries. In this review, I tried to show the different strategies of ten of them, but each one has its own reality. Many countries faced already hard economic situations with many people in poverty and a high percentage of workers in the black market, making it very difficult for them to stay in their houses. The countries that show better results have a good sanitary structure perform more tests, and in most of the cases imposed light quarantines.

The crisis has caught many countries unprepared and the recovery from it won’t be easy. If I try to predict the day after this pandemic, we would probably see more investment in social measures, health systems, and the creation of works in all of the countries. But as said, the crisis provides new opportunities, and this one will too. But that’s a topic for another blog.

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