Peru was one of the first countries in Latin America to impose a total quarantine on its citizens to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
On March 16, the government decreed a state of sanitary emergency, closed the country’s borders, ordered people to go out only for essential purposes, such as buying food and medicine, and decreed curfews at different times in all cities.
Since then, the quarantine has been extended five times. President, Martín Vizcarra, announced this Friday the latest and longest extension of the measure (and the health emergency), which will be in force until June 30. At the same time, some economic activities will be resumed.
Many experts and Peruvians applauded in March the promptness of measures to contain the outbreak and economic packages to help people affected by the paralysis of the economy.
Even so far, 80% of citizens approve of Vizcarra, according to a May survey by the Ipsos Apoyo consultancy.
However, just over two months after the restrictions began, Peru is the second country in Latin America with the most cases of covid-19 in absolute terms after Brazil, and the twelfth Worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, which monitors the progress of the pandemic on the planet.
Until this Friday, Peru registers 111,698 cases of covid-19 and 3,244 deaths.
Almost 30% of the deaths, 977, have occurred in the last eight days, according to data analyzed by the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio.
Markets have been one of the main sources of contagion for covid-19. BBC WORLD / .
Part of these numbers is justified in that Peru has applied more covid-19 detection tests than other Latin American countries with a larger population. Until this Friday it had taken 750,526 samples. While until this Thursday, Mexico had made 193,589; and Argentina, 116,689. Until this Wednesday, Colombia had carried out 214,536 tests.
But the greater amount of evidence does not in itself explain the greater number of cases in Peru. or the fact that the government has not flattened the contagion curve as much as it would have liked.
Several experts consider that some pre-existing problems of the Peruvian economy and society help to understand why Peru still does not contain the outbreak.
These are five factors.
Many Peruvians complied with minimizing their outings, he points out. Hugo Ñopo, Principal Investigator of the Peruvian Research Center GRADE, to BBC Mundo.
But the economic conditions and the obligation to have to go to crowded places, among other circumstances, prevented the most important objective of the fight against the new coronavirus: to maximize social distance.
Many street vendors have continued to go out to work despite restrictions, to get money to eat. BBC WORLD / .
About 71% of the economically active population in Peru occupy informal jobs or work in trades where they earn their income day by day.
“We are talking about households where monetary income is daily and therefore their operating logistics are also daily,” says Ñopo.
“The Peruvians who had to go out to work [tanto de sectores formales como informales] went to transport stations, or Peruvians who went shopping [o a vender] they have gone to very crowded markets where social distance has not been respected at all, ”says Ñopo.
“Then we minimize the exits, but we forget to maximize the social distance. So part of the infections, “he adds.
2. Logistics to supply
One of the difficulties that explains this need to go out frequently is the fact that only 21.9% of poor households in Peru have a refrigerator, that is, just over one in five poor households, according to the latest National Household Survey. from Peru, 2019.
These homes “do not have logistics that allow them to stock up on food for many days,” Ñopo tells BBC Mundo.
“They have to go out to stock up on a regular basis and especially go to the markets,” he adds.
Many people have had to go out to stock up frequently or to work anyway. BBC WORLD / .
Many other people have been going to the markets because in a country as gastronomic as Peru, there is a custom of eating fresh products.
“There is not a day that people do not go out to buy ten cents of culantro (cilantro), ten cents of Chinese onion, the conchitas for ceviche,” Peruvian journalist Harry Gordillo told the podcast “La Encerrona” in late April, on the situation in the district where he lives in the Lambayeque region, the second with more cases after Lima and Callao.
3. Agglomerations in the markets …
Precisely the markets have been identified by President Vizcarra himself as “the main sources of contagion”.
For example, at the La Victoria Fruit Market in Lima, 86% of its vendors were infected with covid-19, according to official data.
Days later, Vizcarra announced that they had intervened to order them and reduce the spread of the virus.
Markets have been one of the main sources of contagion for covid-19. BBC WORLD / .
“We identified that the problems were occurring in the most concentrated contagion zones, which were the markets. We said: we are going to work directly with the municipalities to reverse the situation and [ya] you start to see the results, “said Vizcarra this Tuesday.
“If we do not reduce the level of contagion in the markets, we will not be able to reduce the infection of this disease,” he added.
Pedro Lavado, Professor of Economics at the University of the Pacific, told BBC Mundo that many people with higher incomes also crowded into supermarkets to stock up and spend the days and hours when they would be closed, such as Easter.
The Peruvian social researcher Rolando Arellano He tells BBC Mundo that “the restricted hours of markets and warehouses (including closings throughout the weekend) favored the agglomeration.”
But markets have not been the only sources of contagion in Peru during the pandemic.
4.… And crowding in the banks
Parallel to the restrictions, Peru allocated between 9% and 12% of its GDP to help people who have lost their jobs (or self-employment) and companies that have lost their income due to the emergency.
These aid packages made Peru one of the Latin American countries that has spent the most in the fight against the pandemic.
People queued not only to collect their bonuses, but also to find out about financial aid. BBC WORLD / .
One of the measures was the payment of a bond of 760 soles (about US $ 222, in one or two parts) for some 6.8 million vulnerable, poor, extreme poor and self-employed households.
But only 38.1% of adult Peruvians have a bank account, according to the latest financial inclusion report of the Superintendency of Banking and Insurance (SBS) of Peru, of June 2019.
Although the Executive offered virtual options to receive the bonds, many of the beneficiaries had to personally go to the banks to collect them, and therefore form queues and agglomerations.
Vizcarra also recognized banks as one of the “critical points” of contagion, along with markets and public transport.
“Other site [de contagio] they are, since we are distributing the bonds, also the banks. There we also have to improve the distribution, the transfer of resources but without generating the crowds that we saw, “said the president at a conference on May 13.
That week the government extended the opening hours of banks, shopping malls and pharmacies.
In this way, people “have more time in the day, so there is less concentration of people,” Vizcarra said of the measure.
5. Overcrowding at home
But the Peruvians not only had to “go out” to crowded places. According to the 2019 National Household Survey, 11.8% of poor households in Peru occupy overcrowded homes, making it difficult to maintain social distance at home.
“That is to say, [estos hogares] they have five or more people living in houses that either do not have a room to sleep, that is, only one room or something like that, or that they have only one room for four or more people, “explains Ñopo.
80% of Peruvians approve of Vizcarra’s management, according to a May survey by the Ipsos consultancy. BBC WORLD / . / .
Apart from these problems, Lavado, from the University of the Pacific, told BBC Mundo that it failed to implement a system for tracking contacts of infected people.
Looking to the future, Arellano believes that it is necessary to “educate on the forms of care and distancing in citizens (making them responsible for their actions) and improve marketing, transport, etc. systems. to facilitate asepsis and distancing. “
The Peruvian Minister of Defense, Walter Martos, said this Friday that “the Police and the Armed Forces will not tire of working in the streets, markets, banks and bus stops to help create this new culture of respect for the rules to learn how to live with the virus.”
Ñopo points out that on March 16, when the quarantine began, the measures taken by the government were “the best course of action, given the circumstances.”
“The problem is that those conditions we were in were very precarious,” he laments.
Regarding the extension of restrictions and the parallel resumption of certain activities, Ñopo believes that it is “the most sensible thing” to do.
This virus is unknown. The sensible thing is to extend the quarantine for a long period, because we still don’t know how this is going to evolve. Let those who can stay at home stay, but we must begin to allow those who need work to leave, because there are many households unable to generate income, “he says.
“But clear, precise and powerful messages must be transmitted to the population to maximize social distance,” he adds.
In early May, Vizcarra said that because covid-19 is a new disease, “what might have been the best decision a month ago, in light of the results, requires the necessary adjustments to have better results.” He added that “this does not happen only in Peru, but worldwide”.
He also said that “if the results have not been what we exactly expected, they have been auspicious depending on what has been avoided.”