Latin America, the new epicenter of covid-19 2:01

. – Wuhan was the original epicenter. Later, the coronavirus migrated to Europe. New York was the next critical focus, and now global health authorities are concerned about South America.

The region as a whole is now reporting more daily cases than the United States. And politics seems to have determined the very different approaches that have been taken by several South American countries, with the apparent triumph of ideology over best medical practices in some cases.

Bleak figures after 90 days of pandemic in Latin America 4:06

In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador indicates that he will resume travel in the country to start important public works projects, including a new railway in the southeast. In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro challenged the country’s own health authorities by participating in multiple demonstrations in support of his government, the former right-wing military man even shakes hands with sympathizers and carries children in his arms. And in Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega turned the coronavirus pandemic into a political problem, ensuring that his opponents are the ones who want people to stay home to create a financial crisis, undermining the country and its government.

In sharp contrast, other heads of state in Latin America have implemented drastic measures to curb the spread of covid-19. Peru’s President Martín Vizcarra extended the national emergency until the end of June and created a national working group to accelerate humanitarian efforts, which include mandatory measures of social isolation. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele is sending those who violate the curfew to government-run “quarantine containment centers”, a measure that was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Latin America is the region with the most cases of covid-19 2:14

However, despite the different approaches of the regional and national authorities, Latin America as a region now faces a harsh common reality: the pandemic seems to be unstoppable, regardless of the efforts made.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that South America had become the new epicenter of covid-19.

The history of two countries

This week, Brazil overtook Russia in the number of confirmed cases of covid-19 and became the second country in the world with the highest number of infected people, after the United States.

“We have seen many South American countries with an increasing number of cases and clearly there is concern in many of those places, but certainly the most affected is Brazil at the moment,” said Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO emergency program, during a press conference in Geneva on May 22.

Even despite the massive spread of the coronavirus in Brazil, the differences between Bolsonaro and state governors on how to handle the crisis have worsened. The president has frequently criticized governors for trying to enforce confinement and social distancing measures, insisting that the economy comes first.

The Brazilian opposition maintains that it is enough. Alessandro Molon, a Brazilian legislator and member of the Socialist Party, told CNN that it is time to remove President Bolsonaro. “This is a time when our country should be united, fighting together against this disease. Unfortunately, we have discovered that the main ally of the virus and its best friend is the president, ”said Molon.

Its neighbor Peru, which reacted quickly and strictly to contain the virus, has also seen a drastic increase in cases despite all its efforts. Although he imposed confinement orders, curfews, and border closings, health experts say that income inequality forced the poor to venture out of their homes to work, go for food, and even bank.

People crowded supermarkets and banks, increasing the risk of transmission. The number of infections now threatens to overwhelm Peru’s decentralized health system.

Nowhere in the country is this more evident than in La Victoria, a district of Lima, the capital, with the highest incidence of covid-19 cases in the entire nation. This Tuesday, a viral video on social media showed Mayor George Forsyth desperately asking people, on a street to burst, to go home.

One of Peru’s biggest problems is the informal economy, Forsyth said. The Gamarra market in La Victoria, for example, is the largest textile center in Latin America and most of the workers there work daily. It is estimated that around 70% of people in Peru work in the informal sector. “This is not the time to go to our beautiful but battered district because it is the most infected in all of Peru. This poses great risks and that is why I asked people not to come, “said Mayor Forsyth.

Inequality is a factor… but not the only one

Economic inequity is likely to extend the reach of the coronavirus, and that is a special concern in many Latin American countries. According to a recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Latin America has 8 of the 20 countries with the highest economic inequality in the world.

Poor Latin Americans are less likely to access resources such as sanitation, running water and vaccination, wrote Linnea Sandin, associate director and associate member, of the CSIS Americas Program and author of the report. “They are also more likely to live in overcrowded neighborhoods or lack running water, which means that isolation, frequent hand washing and disinfection are extremely difficult,” he said.

However, even the poorest people can be protected with decisive government action and a strong and unified public health system. Costa Rica, for example, appears in the Gini index as the 16th most unequal country in the world. However, at 0.20 deaths per 100,000 people, the Central American nation of five million has one of the lowest covid-19 death rates in Latin America.

María Dolores Pérez, representative of the Pan American Health Organization in Costa Rica, told CNN that the country’s government health system, which covers almost 95% of the population, allowed the health authorities to launch an effort coordinated against the spread of the virus.

“The strength of the Costa Rican health system and its universal coverage in the country, as well as the quality of its epidemiological surveillance system have been crucial factors. Another key factor has been the commitment of Costa Ricans to fight the virus because they trust and believe in their health system. That is why they have adhered to government guidelines, “said Pérez.

Costa Rica resumes activities under warning of rebound 2:53

Following the guidelines recently allowed Costa Rica to ease its economy again. The Ministry of Health approved a gradual reopening of hotels, cinemas and beaches. Some establishments may remain open until 10 p.m. Monday to Friday.

And even informal workers have been able to return to their activities, although not without precautions. Walter Steller, who sells lottery tickets in downtown San José, the capital of Costa Rica, returned to work for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Like most people in the center, he wears a mask.

“If people ignore the warnings, the problem will be serious again,” Steller told CNN. “Some people think this is over, but they have to realize that this is not over.”