In Paraguay life seems to have resumed its course.
Since last Monday, June 15, restaurants and bars They reopened, as well as gyms and sports centers.
Citizens of the Guaraní country can now also buy theater tickets and drive-ins and participate in the religious services.
Of course: with limited capacity, using mask and respecting social distancing.
While Latin America has become in recent weeks the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic worldwide – among the 15 countries in the world with the highest number of confirmed cases there are four Latin Americans: Brazil, Peru, Chile and Mexico, according to figures from the John Hopkins University in the USA-, Paraguay returns to normal after three months of confinement.
And it does so with enviable numbers: on June 17, the confirmed cases of coronavirus are 1,308, while the deaths from covid-19 are 13, and only two of them in the last month.
Paraguayan authorities quarantine people who cross their borders with Brazil. .
Looking at the context of the region, Paraguay maintains a rate of 2 deaths per million inhabitants, the lowest in South America. That is, far from the 210 per million in Brazil, the 36 in Colombia, the 20 in Argentina and even the 6 deaths per million inhabitants of Uruguay.
But how did you do it?
1. An immediate response
«One of the main reasons is that the Paraguayan government acted very quickly“Explains Carin Zissis, director of the analytical site Americas Society / Council of the Americas (AS / COA, for its acronym in English), which this week published a detailed report called” Where is the coronavirus in Latin America? “.
In early February, when no case of Covid-19 had yet been registered, the government of Mario Abdo Benítez suspended visas to all citizens of the People’s Republic of China, as well as to any foreigner who has traveled to mainland China.
Then, on March 10, three days after the first two cases of contagion in the country were confirmed – those of two citizens from Ecuador and Argentina – Abdo, supported by the Health Minister Juan Mazzoleni, decreed the General Preventive Isolation at the national level.
This first measure included the suspension of school classes at all levels, as well as the restriction of all public and private events and the declaration of the night curfew.
This occurred one day before the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a “pandemic”.
“Our argument was that these cases came from countries where the circulation of the virus at that time was not community“Recalls Juan Carlos Portillo, general director of Health Services of the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare of Paraguay.
“The question we asked ourselves was: ‘Can we rule out that within our country we do not have community circulation of the virus?’ And the answer was no.”
“Furthermore, we were aware that our health system is weak“Portillo continues,” and that both the structures and the health personnel had been under pressure for weeks from the worst dengue epidemic in Paraguay. “
Analysts highlight that part of the credit goes to the citizens, who accepted the harsh measures of confinement. .
After a few days, the Guaraní authorities declared the total quarantine, one of the strictest in the region.
Paraguayans had to stay locked up in their homes and could only go out to buy food and medicine, in case of emergency or if they were essential workers.
“Unlike other governments, such as Mexico or Brazil, Paraguay managed to send a clear message and acted consistently,” explains Zissis, “which allowed the population abide by decisions and act responsibly ».
“Both the strong political leadership and the positive attitude of the population were key to achieving containment of the spread of the virus,” agrees Roberto Escoto, representative in Paraguay of the Pan American Health Organization, the regional office of the World Health Organization. (PAHO / WHO).
Mario Abdo Benítez, of the Colorado Party, was elected president of Paraguay in 2018. .
In addition, the Abdo government built two emergency hospitals and increased intensive care beds. Currently 8 people are hospitalized for covid-19 and only one of them in intensive care.
In early May, the government established the “Smart Quarantine”: little by little, and according to a calendar divided into 4 phases, they relaxed some measures of confinement and certain economic sectors were opened.
Last Monday Paraguay entered the third phase, which will last until the beginning of July, and economic activity returned although, according to some sources consulted, in a 80% of its potential.
2. Geographical isolation
Paraguayan writer Augusto Roa Bastos described his country as a “Island surrounded by land” in the heart of the continent.
And you could not understand the success of Paraguay’s strategy without taking into account its geographic isolation.
Paraguay not only has no outlet to the sea, but large areas of its territory are covered by the jungle or savanna.
In addition, its capital, Asunción, has a reduced air traffic if we compare it with the other large cities in South America, such as Buenos Aires or Sao Paulo.
And there is another element to consider: density of its population.
The most densely populated countries and cities have been found to be most affected for this epidemic.
Paraguay declared quarantine throughout the country on March 10. .
In Paraguay, on the other hand, some 7 million people in a territory three times bigger than Uruguay – another country, by the way, that managed to contain the pandemic with a successful strategy.
Therefore, the population density in Paraguay is very low, only 17 people per square kilometer, which has benefited him.
“Other countries with a small size and a small population, such as Uruguay and Costa Rica, achieved significant results in the fight against the coronavirus,” explains Zissis, “while larger countries or much more populated, like Brazil or the US, have greater challenges ».
Paraguay is a forgotten country abroad partly because Paraguayans, affected for years by their neighbors, have an isolationist tendency. .
However, Zissis continues, “a small size not a sufficient condition to contain the virus and the case of Panama – where until June 17 there were 22,597 cases and 470 deaths, according to data from the John Hopkins Center – proves this.
Another demographic fact that explains the low mortality in Paraguay is that 8 out of 10 infected, according to the Ministry of Public Health, had under 39That is, an age range that statistically has less risk of complications and deaths.
Mario Abdo Benítez, President of Paraguay and a supporter of Bolsonaro, closed his borders with Brazil by registering the first cases of covid-19 in March. .
On the other hand, Paraguay shares more than 1,300 kilometers of border with Brazil, which is currently the second country in the world with the most cases of coronavirus in the world, only behind the United States.
And here could be another key to Paraguay’s success: its border policy.
3. Closed borders
Paraguayan government closed its borders land with Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil on March 24 and today does not contemplate its reopening.
.Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is the focus of criticism from many governments in the region.
The Paraguayan president even claimed that Brazil was “The main threat” in the fight against the pandemic, due to the high number of infections and deaths.
Paraguayan soldiers were sent to the border region to prevent the entry of cars and buses of Brazilian merchants and residents.
Fences were also erected barbed wire in the border city of Pedro Juan Caballero.
“As long as there is evidence that the situation in Brazil is not improving, there is no reason to open the borders,” says Portillo, who summarizes the current relationship between the two countries in one sentence: “If Brazil sneezes, Paraguay will have pneumonia.”
But from the beginning another problem arose to be solved: that of Paraguayans and resident foreigners who wanted return to the country.
Brazil has become the main concern of its neighboring countries. Reproduction
To solve this, the government organized a network of dozens of hostels in all the country.
Dozens of hotels, schools, and military and religious buildings were set up so that all who wanted to return to Paraguay would spend a quarantine 14 days.
So far, some 6,000 people have stayed in these shelters, to whom the Paraguayan State provides food and health care, but also There have been complaints about the treatment and conditions of many of these places.
“At first we would never have imagined that so many people would come,” explains Escoto. “But a very wise decision ».
Many streets in the Paraguayan capital, Asunción, have been left deserted after quarantine was decreed. BBC
More than 60% of all registered coronavirus cases in the country were detected in these shelters, which prevented the virus from spreading throughout the country.
Concern about a regrowth
Although Paraguay is returning to normal and the authorities do not hide its satisfaction Due to the success of their strategy, they consider that the danger has not yet passed.
“The complacency, the feeling of triumph, can be our worst enemy«, Explains Scotus.
“The fact that our population has not been infected in a massive way,” adds Portillo, “means that it continues to be unprotected, as it has not developed the antibodies«.
20% of the Paraguayan population lives in extreme poverty and was affected by the drastic measures of confinement. .
“This forces us”, concludes Portillo, “To maintain an alert posture”.
The other focus of attention is economic consequences that the prolonged quarantine may have on the population, particularly that which is employed in the informal sector.
A report published by the World Bank predicted a drop in Paraguay’s GDP of 2.8%, lower than that of other countries in the region, but equally relevant in a country where one in 5 citizens, according to the Economic Commission for America and the Caribbean (Eclac), there is a situation of extreme poverty.