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Covid-19 in Latin America: three months on

. May 14, 2020
Covid-19 in Latin America: three months on Street vendors continue to work in Quito, Ecuador. Photo: Teran Bryan/Shutterstock

Three months since the first recorded Covid-19 case in Latin America, the region has seen over 385,000 confirmed infections, averaging over 10,000 additional cases each week and a grand total of 21,629 deaths. From north to south, the Americas outstrip Europe by over one million Covid-19 cases, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data. Brazil and the U.S. combine for almost 1.6 million coronavirus infections.

Excluding the U.S. — which has the biggest case and death count in the world by some distance — countries in Central and South America are confronting the reality that the region may become the next Covid-19 epicenter, thanks in large part to the uncontrollable rise in Brazil.

Covid-19

approaches across Latin America have varied from country to country. In El Salvador, the country was put on a strict and early lockdown before the virus had even arrived, while governments in the Southern Cone have been praised for effective containment measures. Meanwhile, Brazil&#8217;s Jair Bolsonaro has become a global pariah for his inactivity in the face of the pandemic and flippancy toward the disease&#8217;s severity.</p> <p>The median response, however, has been commendable, with leaders encouraging people to stay home and advocating for science-based strategies. However, the economic disaster set to hit the region will do so without prejudice, regardless of how well they fought Covid-19.</p> <p>The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/03/19/latin-america-sliding-deep-recession-say-banks/">GDP in Latin America and the Caribbean</a> to fall 5.2 percent in 2020, with a 3.4 percent recovery in 2021. The first visible effects of the upcoming crisis appeared earlier this month, when the continent’s second-largest airline Avianca Holdings filed for bankruptcy. In addition, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the region is expected to lose 195 million jobs over the first three months of the pandemic.&nbsp;</p> <p>After diligently following the Covid-19 pandemic in Brazil, <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> is now casting its eye across Latin America, summing up the current situation in each country.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <iframe title="Covid-19 in Latin America" aria-label="Map" id="datawrapper-chart-ADYvI" src="https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/ADYvI/1/" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important; border: none;" height="628"></iframe><script type="text/javascript">!function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",(function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}}))}(); </script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>The Southern Cone</h2> <p>The presidents of Uruguay, <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/04/25/argentina-exits-mercosur-negotiations-upending-trade-deals/">Argentina</a>, and Paraguay are all far more concerned with the Covid-19 spread in neighboring Brazil, than the epidemic situations in their own countries, which appear to be under control for the time being. Paraguay tightened its porous border controls in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero, separated from the Brazilian town of Ponta Porã by little more than a street sign. In the first week of May, 86.7 percent of Covid-19 cases registered in Paraguay came from Brazil.&nbsp;</p> <p>Uruguayan President Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou did the same, putting the country on alert when Brazilian workers tested positive for the virus in the Uruguayan border city of Rio Branco. In Argentina, President Alberto Fernández said in an interview that “it seems the [Jair Bolsonaro] government is not acting with the seriousness it should have.”</p> <p>In Paraguay, all intensive care beds are currently vacant, and President Mário Abdo Benitez is already rolling out his so-called &#8220;smart quarantine,&#8221; with the reopening of some productive sectors. Chile leads the way in South America regarding per capita <a href="https://labs.ebanx.com/en/notes/chile-is-the-latin-american-country-that-is-doing-more-tests-to-detect-covid-19/">Covid-19 testing</a> — though northern neighbor Peru is close behind — but any hope of reopening the economy seems rushed.</p> <p>In Argentina, despite huge efforts from politicians to encourage isolation and <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/04/08/brazilian-judges-refusing-to-pitch-in-with-covid-19-effort/">take pay cuts</a> to help the economy, there are some suspicions cases are being underreported.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Andean nations</h2> <p>Before the chaos in the northern Brazilian city of Manaus, Ecuador was the first nightmare Covid-19 scenario in Latin America. In the coastal region of Guaya, home to the country&#8217;s largest city Guayaquil, piles of bodies on the streets illustrated the utter collapse of the city&#8217;s health system.</p> <p><strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/04/01/in-ecuador-covid-19-is-leaving-a-literal-trail-of-bodies/">showed</a> how inequality and misinformation encouraged people to break quarantine, which culminated in a boom in deaths. After apparently containing the immediate crisis, cases and deaths are once again on the rise.</p> <p>In Bolivia, tracking the spread of the virus is challenging. Testing has been a challenge and the health crisis has been overshadowed by recent political unrest. Swooping into power as interim president after <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2019/11/13/evo-morales-bolivia-coup/">Evo Morales was ousted in a coup</a>, Jeanin Áñez is being accused of using the pandemic to extend her illegitimate claim to power. General elections in 2020 were postponed and have not been rescheduled.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Venezuela, Haiti, and Nicaragua</h2> <p>While the situation is desperate in Brazil, a lack of any reliable figures make Venezuela, Haiti, and Nicaragua are the Latin American countries causing the most concern. According to the data shared by their respective governments, the trio has recorded fewer than 30 deaths combined, something quite strange considering they are among the poorest and most economically unstable countries in the hemisphere.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Nicaragua, which only admits eight Covid-19 deaths, President Daniel Ortega <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/03/27/nicaragua-turns-a-blind-eye-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/">disappeared for an entire month</a>, leaving the population to organize its own social isolation measures. When he finally appeared in public, he blamed atomic bombs for the global crisis and returned to the shadows.&nbsp;</p> <p>Without any trustworthy data, Nicaraguan researchers and experts founded the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ObservatorioCovidNi/">Nicaraguan Covid-19 Citizen Observatory</a>, sharing information that the government in Managua refuses to.&nbsp;</p> <p>Venezuela and Haiti face the same problem.<a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/04/03/black-hole-data-covid-19-deaths-haiti-remain-unknown/"> <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> showed</a> that the pandemic could lead to chaos in the tiny Caribbean country, where there are less than 60 real intensive care beds on the entire care system. The Pan American Health Organization already fears a new “<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/05/08/853052522/haitian-doctor-says-this-is-the-worst-epidemic-hes-faced">humanitarian crisis</a>.”</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Mexico, El Salvador, and Costa Rica</h2> <p>As Latin America’s second-largest country, Mexico&#8217;s Covid-19 fight got off on the wrong foot. When most of the neighboring countries were already declaring quarantine, President López Obrador <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/03/24/amlo-bolsonaro-feel-the-limits-of-personalized-politics/">spoke out against social isolation</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>As days have passed and Mexico reached the continent’s largest lethality rate, the government has been dealing with the situation with the severity it demands.&nbsp;</p> <p>El Salvador&#8217;s President Nayib Bukele is in the eye of the storm. The leader declared a <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/04/28/el-salvador-coronavirus-authoritarianism/">total lockdown in the country</a> before any cases had been reported and Covid-19 rates in El Salvador are likely to remain the lowest in the region. In the meantime, the government is using the health crisis to promote human rights violations in a bloody crackdown on the country&#8217;s crime gangs known as <em>pandillas</em>.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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