- By Emily Gregg, edited by Mike Gatehouse.
- LAB has put together this tenth overview of the spread of coronavirus across the region and the reaction of governments, politicians and local communities. With our limited resources we could not hope to provide a truly comprehensive survey.
- Figures for infections and mortality, summarised in the table at the end, are those given by the World Health Organisation Situation Report 170 on Wednesday 8 July, and John Hopkins University Coronavirus Centre, as of midday Wednesday 8 July. Where figures appear in the images within the article, they may refer to earlier dates. We are unable to provide figures on excess deaths due to the lack of data for most countries in the region.
- LAB will attempt to follow up this story, focusing on the poor, marginal communities, indigenous groups and inequalities in treatment and economic compensation for the effects of this terrible pandemic on individuals and families.
- See LAB articles at the head of our Home Page and in the Covid-19 section for further news, testimony & information. See also the posts on our Facebook page.
After a month without any new cases, Cuba’s capital, Havana, is the last province to starts its return to the ‘new normal’ after three months of restrictions. Obligatory use of masks and social distancing continue to be enforced, but residents can now use public transport, go to beaches, and eat and drink in local bars and restaurants.
However, shortages of food and other basic goods are rife. Although some hotels have reopened, there is no sign of the revival of the tourist industry, which generates US $2-2.5 billion a year.
The rest of the island, apart from Matanzas, has entered stage two of easing restrictions. School classes are due to restart in September.
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After one of the longest quarantines in the world, Peru started to reopen its economy. Quarantine has been lifted in 18 out of the 25 regions in the country. Borders remain closed, as are night clubs and bars. However, mining, industrial, and commercial sectors have restarted with increased sanitary protocols. Masks remain obligatory, and Peruvians are reminded to continue to regularly wash their hands and maintain social distancing.
Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, is back in lockdown as experts believe numbers could jump up in July. While Argentina has relatively low numbers of cases compared to its neighbours, the cases are overwhelmingly concentrated in the capital. President Fernández explained the measure in a televised speech, stressing the need to allow the health system to improve and to ensure it can serve everyone who may need it.
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Bolivia, too, is believed to be losing ground after making a positive start. Lockdown was implemented relatively early compared to the rest of the region. However, a weak health system, poverty, and political turmoil threaten to contribute to a jump in the number of cases.
The head of epidemiology at the Ministry of Health, Virgilio Prieto, believes the country is heading towards an ‘explosive pandemic’. The country registered a record of 1,301 new cases on 2 July. The epidemiologist believed that the high rate of community transmission is due to a disregard of preventative measures, such as not wearing a mask or wearing it incorrectly.
However, some have attributed the growing numbers to the fact that some Bolivian families have been forced to leave the house to work after delays in receiving government grants, or because they don’t have the required documentation to receive the benefit. Others have attributed the increase to government inaction and failure to equip hospitals. Demonstrations from opposers of the interim government and supporters of Morales may have increased the infection rate in Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) strongholds.
The Minister for Health, Eidy Roca, has tested positive for the virus, and a Minister of the Presidency, Yerko Núñez, has been hospitalised for health complications after having tested positive.
The Mayor of Palmira, Colombia, Oscar Escobar, has tweeted that he tested positive for coronavirus, but claimed to be asymptomatic.
Greater controls are to be enforced in the Amazonas region to limit traffic across the border with Brazil, due to fears of a second outbreak. The Health Secretary for Amazonas, Héctor Jaime Hernández, says that the virus is being carried in from Manaus, Brazil, and Iquitos, Peru. He also noted the significant pressure from the business sector in Leticia and Tabatinga to allow to trade to resume; and difficulty with the region’s indigenous communities, which he appeared to criticise because they will not let outsiders enter during the pandemic.
Eighty per cent of the ICU beds in Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, are occupied. The city has seen accelerated rates of infection and deaths from Covid in recent days and the average number of new cases a day has tripled in the past month from 400 to 1,200. Although 30 ventilators have been taken out of service, due to a lack of medical staff to oversee them, which has increased the occupancy rate ot the remainder, the district has affirmed that this is only temporary.
Colombian President, Ivan Duque, described the Coronavirus situation in neighbouring Venezuela as a ‘time bomb’ for public health. At the time of his statement, Venezuela had reported only 4,600 cases and 39 deaths. However, the President claimed the figures are null, and that the country lacks decent medical care and immunisation programmes. Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s President, has insisted that the country has managed the pandemic better than others in the region and that most of its cases can be traced back to Venezuelans returning from Brazil and Colombia. NGOs and John Hopkins University, which is monitoring the virus, have also expressed doubts over the figures.
Nonetheless, Bogotá’s city municipality has organised buses to transport Venezuelan migrants to the border. Since lockdown began, many of the 1.82 million Venezuelans that had taken refuge in Colombia found themselves without work and therefore, without a place to stay. Most took the decision to return to their families in their home country. Some have trekked; others have hitchhiked in the absence of public transport; still others have set up camp on the outskirts of the city, receiving donations of food from the generosity of the locals. However, official buses provided relief to the campers, who packed up their tents when the transport was announced last Thursday. An estimated 71,000 Venezuelans have returned home during the pandemic so far.
A report from health workers in the country highlights the precarious state of Venezuela’s health system. A doctor and a health NGO complained last Monday that they face increasing risk due to the lack of PPE, including masks and gloves, which they are forced to reuse. The state of Zulia has become the epicentre of the virus in the country, due to the chronic shortage of water and energy, leaving hospitals without essential supplies to prevent contagion. The NGO Médicos Unidos Venezuela reported that six doctors and one nurse died in the state between 19 and 28 June.
Nor does it seem that help will come soon, as Maduro’s request for the Bank of England to release Venezuela’s 31 tonnes of gold stored in the bank was denied. The Venezuelan government had made the request to use the gold to pay for efforts to fight the virus, with the support of the UN. The judgement from the UK High Court determined that Juan Guaidó, leader of the opposition, is the legitimate leader of Venezuela and so Maduro did not have the right to request the gold. Venezuela’s Central Bank tweeted that they will appeal the decision.
Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, has taken an array of measures against Coronavirus after pressure from workers and trade unions, and more deaths amongst its workforce. At the end of June, the company agreed to stop melting and refining copper in its Chiquicamata mine in Antofagasta, following the death of a second worker. The aim of the measure is to reduce exposure and to strengthen preventative efforts and controls.
A week later, the trade unions of Chiquicamata’s miners agreed to a new timetable of six days on, six days off, to reduce workers’ exposure to the virus.
The company has also suspended the construction of a new level in its largest mine, El Teniente, in further efforts to limit the effect of the virus after the death of its sixth worker.
The company’s president, Octavio Araneda, said that any further measures to resrict mining operations would be ‘catastrophic’ for the country, and that Codelco has been ‘pro-active’ in confronting the virus.
Immigrant medical staff have also been given granted permission to work in Chile. The rigorous and expensive process to transfer foreign qualifications means that many foreign health professionals are unable to practice their profession in the country, being forced to work instead in unskilled jobs that they are unable to continue during the pandemic. However, as Chile’s health workforce is becoming exhausted, the country is turning to the untapped resource pool. Almost 14,000 health workers have been infected with coronavirus, including 600 doctors and there are 3,000 current cases. The President of the Chilean Association of Foreign Doctors said that many of the Association’s members prefer to work with the risk of the virus and to return to medicine than to not work at all.
The major earthquake that hit Oaxaca, Mexico, on 24 June affected 10 hospitals, including two dedicated to fighting Coronavirus. Both Regional de Alta Especialidad, which was at 100 per cent occupancy, and Niñez Oaxaqueña, at 80 per cent capacity, had to be evacuated to assess the damage. No structural damage was reported, although there was superficial damage to doors, walls and fitting. Ten patients were also removed from Hospital General de San Pedro Pochulta, including one suspected to have coronavirus, as a result of the earthquake.
Mexico’s President, Lopez Obrador, commonly known as AMLO, reported that 82,000 formal jobs were lost in June due to the economic impact of the pandemic. It follows a loss of 345,000 jobs in May. However, the president said the job losses would end in July. Some 19.5 million workers are currently enrolled in the social security program, IMSS.
In efforts to help the Mexican economy, car factories have been reopening since the beginning of June. The Volkwagen factory opened in the middle of the month. Just a week later, the company reported that two percent of the workers have tested positive for coronavirus – around 100 employees. The company have said that the workers had contracted the virus before returning to work.
Indigenous leaders have criticised a military mission sent to their territories, and supposedly designed to protect them. Instead, they say, it has increased the risk of transmission. Federal prosecutors are investigating the visit that ignored the Yanomami’s wish to remain isolated, flouted social distancing, and distributed chloroquine amongst the residents. Journalists also accompanied the mission and reported that Yanomami families were tested for coronavirus. A leader complained that they were not consulted in advance about the visit. Another affirmed that the community does not want to be used for propaganda, nor have pictures taken of their children.
The Minister of Defence, Fernando Azevedo, who headed the mission, said that no cases were found. The Yanomami health council, CONDISI, however, said that over 160 cases and six coronavirus-related deaths have been registered in the community.
Indigenous leader and well-known defender of the Amazon, Paulinho Paiakan, has died due to Coronavirus. Around 300 indigenous people from 100 communities have died from coronavirus, according to APIB. APIB have criticised President Jair Bolsonaro for having ‘done nothing’ to prevent the spread of the virus, while Survival International have pointed to illegal mining in Yanomami land.
On 22 June, a judge ordered Bolsonaro to wear a mask and to behave appropriately in public. The order was in reaction to the president’s repeated outings and public appearances in which he has failed to wear a mask correctly, if at all. The judge cited the presidential oath, by which the president pledges to ‘uphold, defend and fulfil the constitution, obey the laws [and] promote the wellbeing of the Brazilian people’. The president was warned that if he contrinues to break the rules, he could face a fine of R$2,000 (£310) per day.
The president, criticised for his downplaying of the virus having once described it as a gripezinha ‘a little flu’, underwent a second test on Monday after showing symptoms. Although he stated that his lung scan was clean in a statement soon after the test, it was revealed that he has tested positive. After announcing the result, Bolsonaro stepped back from reporters and removed his mask, saying, “Just look at my face. I’m well, fine, thank God … and to those who criticise me, no problem, carry on criticising as much as you like.”
Bolsonaro had attended 4 July celebrations with the US ambassador to Brazil at the weekend. The ambassador has said he is showing no symptoms, but would be tested and take precautions.
In March, the 65-year old claimed his athletic background would prevent him from suffering badly from the virus. Around the same time, he had his first test for coronavirus following a trip to the US in March, after which members of his entourage fell ill.
Country by country summary. Case and death figures from WHO Situation Report 170, 8 July 2020, and John Hopkins University Coronavirus Centre as of midday, 8 July 2020.
Reports from some individual governments and unofficial sources suggest considerably higher figures.
|Country||WHO Situation Report 170||John Hopkins University|
|Puerto Rico||8,714||157||data unavailable||data unavailable|
Emily Gregg is a LAB correspondent and author. She lived in Arica, Chile, until returning to the UK because of the pandemic, and wrote The Student Revolution chapter in LAB’s book Voices of Latin America (2019).