COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 35
The Coronavirus continues to devastate the most economically unequal region of the world with 16.5 Million cumulative COVID-19 cases in Latin America & the Caribbean as of January 10, 2021. In addition, the Раn-Аmеrісаn Неаlth Оrgаnіzаtіоn (РАНО) has also reported in a new epidemiological update that three new variants of the ЅАRЅ-СоV-2 virus whісh саuѕеѕ СОVІD-19 have bееn dеtесtеd in 14 соuntrіеѕ асrоѕѕ the Аmеrісаѕ.
With the spread of the disease, experts blame informal economies in Mexico and Central America which force people outside of the homes to earn their daily livings . Because there are not enough formal jobs, people are forced to invent ways to sell their services for cash without any protections. The crowded living conditions, poverty, social discord, poor governance and fragmented/underfunded health systems exacerbate the problem. Latin Americans also have high levels of obesity, diabetes and other underlying chronic health conditions. Central Americans have been fleeing their corrupt governments, violence, poverty and the desolation caused by two recent hurricanes and the pandemic and thousands of them are on the move in caravans to the USA.
Taking into account this precarious context, our special report will enumerate each of the countries in this subregion and provide an update from when we reported back in June 2020. Undoubtedly a lot of things have changed and people in these countries have had to endure unprecedented circumstances which seem to only further complicate as the pandemic continues to ravage the region unrelentingly. This special report also serves an introduction to the multiple reports this February which will shed some light on specific situations in Mexico and all Central American countries.
Mexico’s fast-rising caseload of over 1,857,230 active cases leads these grim statistics, with Mexico City reporting general hospital beds and beds with ventilators that are both currently over 85 per cent occupied. There is also a lack of enough oxygen crisis evolving in the region because supplies can’t keep up. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting, some hospitals’ demand for oxygen has increased between five and seven times above normal. Mexico’s COVID-19 death toll of more than 158,074 humans as of January 10 is the world’s fourth-highest fatality toll after the United States, Brazil and India, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
In Guatemala, up to February 3, 2021, there have been 160,299 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 5,709 deaths. Guatemala’s president said he had received word from the health ministry that between mid and late February Guatemala would be receiving the first 800,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. The Guatemalan government has announced that, as of January 06, 2021, all arriving passengers who originated or transited from any airports within the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) or South Africa will be denied entry due to a new variant of COVID-19 found in those countries. All persons aged 10 or over arriving in Guatemala must now present a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test result within 96 (up from 72) hours of flight departure. Guatemala has also become a battleground for migrants being held back from continuing their caravans up north. The Mexican Government is also involved with personnel and equipment to capture refugees and return them back mainly to Honduras.
Belize is the most underpopulated country in Central America and the most isolated. The good news is that COVID-19 infections are decreasing in Belize, with approx. 24 new infections reported on average each day. That’s 6% of the peak — the highest daily average reported on December 8. There have been 11,957 infections and 303 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began. Belize is like a remote beach and rainforest with few citizens, visitors and COVID-19 patients.
Honduras COVID-19 infections are increasing with 987 new infections reported on average each day. That’s 97% of the peak — the highest daily average reported on January 26, 2021. There have been 149,791 infections and 3,638 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began. Honduras was hit the hardest by hurricanes Eta and Iota. Approximately 95,000 Hondurans were forced to take refuge; 85,000 homes were damaged and nearly 6,000 destroyed completely in the storms. As in other Central American countries, arable land was washed away, erosion damaged the harvest of basic staples, food insecurity and massive homelessness is a fact and is pushing thousands to flee. The corruption levels in Honduras during the pandemic seem to increase with fraud and theft rampant as in the case of mobile hospitals fraud during the pandemic.
COVID-19 infections are decreasing in El Salvador, with 209 new infections reported on average each day as of 02/03/2021. That’s 48% of the peak — the highest daily average reported on August 8, 2020. There have been 55,195 infections and 1,646 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began. Like in other countries, international travelers having the UK or South Africa in their flight itinerary within the past 30 days remain barred from entry in response to a new strain of the virus that was discovered in the UK and South Africa. Other arriving travelers must present proof of having tested negative for COVID-19 using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken no more than 72 hours before travel.
President Bukele and his government have been accused of corruption. Salvadoran officials paid more than $800,000 to a hotel chain used as quarantine centers that authorities had earlier seized from an accused drug dealer. Another case concerned a procurement contract for $225,000 worth of rubber boots, granted to a company owned by the aunt of Health Minister Francisco Alabi. And the government purchased 300,000 masks from a firm linked to Finance Minister Alejandro Zelaya, for $750,000—double the manufacturer’s price.
In Nicaragua, the Ortega dictatorship doesn’t contribute to international watchdogs and there have been officially reported only 5,263 infections and 147 coronavirus-related deaths in the country since the pandemic began. John Hopkins reports a slightly higher number of confirmed cases of 6,299 and 170 deaths. Experts and observers have expressed concern that some countries, such as Mexico, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, are significantly undercounting their death tolls. Many observers have expressed special concern for Venezuela, where the health care system was collapsing prior to the pandemic.
However, the numbers reported by the independent Citizen’s Observatory source estimates 12,716 cases and 2,947 suspicious deaths. Nicaragua’s Vice President Rosario Murillo announced on 02/01 that a first batch of over half a million doses of the vaccine against Covid-19 will soon arrive in the country. Mr. Jarbas Barbosa, PAHO’s assistant director which is the regional office of the World Health Organization stated that Russian Vaccines are expected soon. “Nicaragua is negotiating with the Russian laboratory Nikolay Gamaleya to acquire the…Sputnik V vaccine.” Elections are scheduled for November 2021 and the Ortega government is tightening its grip on power with severe repression to prevent the opposition from getting anywhere. The political climate makes the suffering of COVID-19 in this country difficult to assess thus likely worse than reported.
Costa Rica’s average number of new infections reported each day falls by more than 540 over the last 3 weeks, 33% of its previous peak. COVID-19 infections are decreasing in Costa Rica, with 523 new infections reported on average each day. That’s 40% of the peak — the highest daily average reported on September 26. There have been 195,009 infections, and 2,641 coronavirus related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began. Costa Rica has administered 57,701 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, President Carlos Alvarado declared.
In Panama, there have been 322,201 reported infections and 5,339 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began. COVID-19 infections are decreasing in Panama, with 1,195 new infections reported on average each day. That’s 33% of the peak or the highest daily average reported on January 9. There were 197 infections per 100K people reported in the last 7 days. The average number of new infections reported each day in Panama fell by more than 2,400 over the last 3 weeks, 67% of its previous peak. COVID rules restrict women to enter shopping locations on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Men are allowed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The country is on full lockdown from 9 p.m. Friday to 4 a.m. Monday. Panama expects its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and BioNTech, totaling 40,000 doses, Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes said on Monday 02/01/2021.
The forecast does not bode well for most of these Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries. According to the IMF, in 2020, GDP in was expected to contract by 8.1% compared to only 4.3% in the US. Before the pandemic, these emerging economies were growing faster than developed nations. The IMF, predicts that “most countries [in LAC] will not go back to pre-pandemic GDP until 2023, and real income per capita until 2025,” whereas the US is expected to recover fully by 2022.
These conditions are naturally going to increase the pressure for the poorest in the region to flee unless concerted effort is made to reduce and eliminate dictatorships and corruption. The need is great to also improve the educational gaps so that climate and financial downturns do not keep resulting in life and death situations for most of the people in this region.
By Ulysses Jaen