How South American Countries Are Fighting COVID-19

From swift action- to caution- to extreme irresponsibility


Militarized cities in South America during COVID-19 (EFE).

The ten countries that comprise South America have opted for different preventive measures against the coronavirus (COVID-19). Suspension of classes at all levels, partial border closures (only allowing nationals and resident aliens to enter without affecting goods), mandatory isolation (only allowing people to leave when strictly necessary, such as to buy medicine or food), regulation of public transport, the prohibition of any type of event involving crowds, and broad closures of public spaces and activities.

Some governments, such as Paraguay’s, have acted swiftly since the first positive cases, and have managed to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Others waited a little longer to take more drastic measures, such as Chile or Argentina. Brazil, meanwhile, leads the way among the most irresponsible governments, not only in South America but in the entire world.

The Venezuelan regime, led by Nicolás Maduro, has not only taken advantage of the situation to increase repression and social control, but it has also prevented access to data to ensure that it is not evident that it did not act quickly in response to the spread of the virus. The unofficial figures, which are difficult to collect and corroborate, are more reliable than the regime’s announcements and statements.

Argentina, progressive measures

The government of Alberto Fernández did not implement rapid measures compared to countries in the region, but as the cases evolved, it accelerated the measures to stop a faster spread in a country that is not going through a good economic period.

Argentina was the first country in South America to announce the first official victim of COVID-19 on March 7. Now, there are four deaths and 266 positive cases with confirmation of community transmission.

A week after the first victim, the Argentine president asked the citizens to stay in their homes, something that a large number of citizens did not comply with. As a result, the Government decided to make quarantine obligatory.

Buenos Aires in quarantine (EFE).

Other relevant measures: total suspension of classes announced on March 15, closure of borders, and suspension of flights from Europe, China, USA, South Korea, Japan, and Iran for thirty days.

The regulation of public transport was another measure by the Fernández government, as was the approval of leave for public and private workers returning from COVID-19 infected areas to isolate themselves in their homes for fourteen days. Elderly people with pre-existing conditions were also given a leave of absence.

There are many opinions regarding the administration in charge of the pandemic. If you bear in mind that all the South American countries had the warnings from Europe that the COVID-19 could easily collapse first world health systems, such as that of Spain, the delay in taking drastic measures, which had to come sooner or later, is quite striking.

Bolivia and the chronological management of the pandemic in a transitional government

Bolivia is one of the countries in South America with the fewest confirmed cases of COVID-19. There are 27 cases, and so far, there have been no deaths. However, it should be noted that Bolivia has not submitted information on how many tests it performs per day, a situation that complicates any analysis that may be made on the management of the pandemic.

The Bolivian Ministry of Health did report 27 official cases of COVID-19, 30 suspected cases, and 201 ruled out tests. This latest number is being counted progressively as the days go by.

Since March 12, Bolivia had been in a national emergency, and the total suspension of classes had been announced. Rallies involving more than 100 people were also banned.

On March 19, interim President Jeanina Áñez declared the closure of borders and the suspension of all international flights as of March 20. Only Bolivians and resident aliens are allowed to enter, and they must directly go into mandatory confinement. There will also be no inter-departmental or inter-provincial movement.

The Bolivian government declared a total quarantine for 14 days starting last Sunday. As a result, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal decided to indefinitely postpone the presidential elections originally scheduled for May 3.

Before the Áñez government announced these measures, the departments of Potosí, Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, and Oruro had already declared quarantine until March 31. Tarija also took special actions as part of isolation.

The police and military enforce curfews in major cities to prevent the spread. The handling of the pandemic, as for other administrations, presents a great opportunity for Áñez to earn political credit or, conversely, lose it. Muddy terrain for her.

Brazil and the undermining of COVID-19

All of Bolsonaro’s economic performance and popularity can be ruined by the poor management of the pandemic. Brazil is among the 20 countries with the most positive cases of COVID-19 in the world, with 1,593 cases. It is also the country in the region with the most deaths from the Coronavirus- 25.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, after harshly criticizing the world’s reaction to the pandemic, calling it “hysteria,” decided to close the borders with all its neighbors except Uruguay.

Other measures in Brazil, at least at the regional level in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, include the suspension of classes, the cancellation of mass events, and the reduction of public transport. At the federal level, tourist cruises were banned. In Brasilia, bars and restaurants are not closed, but they require a minimum distance of two meters between tables.

Health Minister has concerns

The Brazilian Minister of Health, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, commented on the situation of COVID-19 in the coming months: “We are going to start April with a rapid rise (of infections), and this rise will continue in May and June when a downward trend will start.”

He also admitted that the health system could collapse by the end of April, even for those who have health insurance or pay for private clinics. This situation could worsen or improve depending on the behavior adopted by Brazilians, whether they accept the health precautions and recommendations, he added.

On Friday, Bolsonaro criticized the measures taken by Wilson Witzel, governor of Rio de Janeiro. He said, “it seems that Rio de Janeiro is another country. It is not. We are a federation.”

Chile, political calvary, and global crisis in the aftermath of the pandemic

President Sebastián Piñera is not having a good time. The last few months have put him at a crossroads where he is constantly between a rock and a hard place. Violent demonstrations against the country’s democratic institutions have not ceased and have not been controlled either. They have completely taken over the routine of the trans-Andean country. Added to all this is the great problem posed by the pandemic.

The number of cases in Chile rose to 746, and there has already been one death. On March 18, Piñera announced a state of emergency due to the disaster, as the country entered Phase 4 of the COVID-19, which is the most serious stage, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). On the same day, the official closing of the borders was also announced, but this measure would not affect the transport of goods.

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera in meetings to take action against COVID-19 (Sebastián Piñera’s official Twitter feed).

Other containment measures were implemented a few days ago: suspension of classes, the prohibition of visits to senior centers for the next 30 days to prevent the spread of the disease to the most vulnerable people, the prohibition of mass gatherings of more than 200 people, and finally, the Chilean Ministry of Health called for 14 days of isolation for those infected or who have had direct contact with a patient with COVID-19. Fines for not respecting this measure can reach 3,000 USD.

Referendum agreement

The Piñera government and the opposition reached an agreement to postpone the referendum that could amend the constitution. It was originally scheduled for April 26 and has been postponed until October.

Like the Argentine government, which had better foresight, Chile was also taking progressive action- something absolutely reprehensible and striking given the above. But it is also true that the social and political turmoil – Piñera’s own fault – complicated any action that the president might take.

Other countries must learn from Chile’s commitment to detecting cases. They carry out 800 tests a day and have a capacity for 3,000, which is one of the best performances in the region.

Colombia and a Herculean fight against the virus

Iván Duque’s government has announced that the quarantine will be in effect for 19 days, starting from midnight on Tuesday, March 24. Colombia already has three deaths from COVID-19- the third was recently confirmed by the country’s Health Ministry. Additionally, it also has 277 confirmed cases.

President Duque had already decreed a state of emergency and the closure of land, sea, and river borders until May 30. Also, as of Monday, March 23, international commercial flights are banned for 30 days

The Colombian economy has been affected by the fall in oil prices, the Colombian peso has been devalued by 15%, and the economic slowdown is inevitable and unavoidable during the pandemic. In light of these facts, Duque has already informed that he will make announcements based on the extraordinary powers granted to him by the emergency to protect Colombians.

Furthermore, the government ordered preventive-mandatory confinement, from March 20 to May 31 for people over 70 years. They must remain in their homes and may only leave if they need medical attention.

Bogota is emptier than usual (EFE).

Classes have been suspended, bars and restaurants have been closed. Other measures taken include the disembarkation of cruise ships to Colombia and the cancellation of events for more than 500 people.

Ecuador, severely affected

Ecuador presided over by Lenín Moreno, decreed a state of emergency last week. This came after announcing the closure of borders, shutting events with more than 250 people to avoid crowds and the total suspension of classes.

This state of emergency includes a curfew from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. It also includes the suspension of all activities, except for the agriculture, livestock and health industries, banks, and grocery stores.

The military is authorized to maintain control in the cities and to restrict some rights, such as the right to assembly. All to prevent the spread, of course.

Ecuador’s Ministry of Public Health reported that “out of a total of 2,360 tests for coronavirus, there are 789 positive cases, 872 ruled out, and 14 deaths.

Since March 11, the Ministry of Health has declared a health emergency across the country. It also imposed the stipulation that all those arriving in Ecuador from Spain, France, Iran, Italy, South Korea, and the provinces of Hubei and Canton in China, must be isolated for 14 days in their homes. 

Ecuador’s former health minister, Catalina Andramuño, resigned from her post on March 21, claiming that she was not given sufficient funds to tackle the crisis. Her replacement is Juan Carlos Zevallos.

Paraguay, seeking to set an example

President Mario Abdo Benítez, along with his health minister, Julio Mazzoleni, is emerging as the most important figure in the Guaraní country as far as the pandemic is concerned. And rightly so because Paraguay is the country in the south with the fewest confirmed cases, but with two deaths and limited test collection. This does not diminish the merits of the authorities, who are doing a great job.

On March 23, Minister Mazzoleni confirmed on his Twitter account that 89 tests were processed (the highest number so far), and of those, five were positive. This means that Paraguay has 27 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

As of March 10, there were 25 suspected cases, of which four were ruled out, and three tested positive, adding to the first confirmed case on March 7. By March 12, five were dismissed, and one tested positive. By that day, there were six cases. A day later, the tests were increased to 17, and another case was confirmed. The average of 16 and 17 samples was maintained on Saturday and Sunday, March 14 and 15, resulting in another positive case.

The number of tests increased progressively from 26 to 27, rising to 30 or so, with some cases always being confirmed, until it reached 68 tests on March 21 when four cases were confirmed positive for COVID-19. The highest number of tests- 89- was recorded on the night of March 23.

Pioneer of measures

Paraguay was one of the first countries in the region to adopt measures, such as the total suspension of classes, the cancellation of public events, restrictive measures of not being on the streets after 8:00 pm until 4:00 am (unless one has a work permit), the regulation of public transport, among others at the national level.

Other measures include the cancellation of flights to and from Europe and the prohibition of the entry of non-resident foreigners into Paraguayan airspace.

Entry to the country, after the partial closure of the borders, is only allowed to nationals and resident aliens, who are placed in preventive-mandatory isolation. Several of these measures began on March 9 when there were only 25 suspected cases and one confirmed positive case for COVID-19. The community transmission of the virus had not yet been ascertained and was confirmed on March 20. On the same day, the first death due to coronavirus in Paraguay was reported.

President Mario Abdo has already taken some economic measures, as has the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, which has set standard prices for products related to the prevention of COVID-19.

Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez announces economic measures (Paraguayan Presidency).

But the executive is facing a huge challenge: a large part of the population is vulnerable, and the need to protect small and medium-sized enterprises is as urgent as safeguarding jobs. Moreover, the debt and the bad expenditure of public money -all an attack against taxpayers- already placed the Guaraní country on the verge of an almost unavoidable recession.

What should the government do? A latent debate

For the Paraguayan president, the management of the pandemic represents a great opportunity not only to clean up the image of his administration, which has been so bumpy that it could even end up in a political trial, but it could also mean a watershed moment in the country’s ability to adopt effective measures. Therefore, there is a debate on the proposals.

In the newspaper ABC, Professor Víctor Pavón talks about the challenge faced by Paraguay and the world to boost supply and demand, an unprecedented situation because both have fallen almost equally.

In his article, the professor highlights some of the measures by the government to cope with the pandemic, but it is impossible to overlook the slowdown in the world economy, as well as the debt contracted by Paraguay, which he discussed with the PanAm Post last month.

Bad public spending is another dose of the reality that Paraguayan citizens have suffered. The money wasted by taxpayers will now directly affect vulnerable citizens. What does the administration have to do to minimize the impact of the pandemic? Without a doubt, betting on the debt would be an attack on economic stability, not in the long term, but the medium term.

Former Minister of Finance Dionisio Borda and economist Fernando Masi made a proposal that was published in an article for Ultima Hora. Patriotism and solidarity in the face of the crisis, they called it. They talk about interventionist measures that they consider necessary. To some extent, they are understandable and reasonable, but they are also risky, especially in the area of debt.

The truth is that Mario Abdo’s administration is facing a huge challenge, and he needs to move swiftly and skillfully. His economic measures will determine the evaluation of the management of the crisis and, probably, the rating of his administration. The president has a historic opportunity to change many things for the better in the wake of the world’s problems.

Peruvian management

Peru was the first country in the region to enact a mandatory general quarantine on March 15. It is also one of the countries that have been tremendously affected at the economic level by the blow to the informal sector that represents 70% of the Peruvian economy.

To this end, the government approved a subsidy more or less equivalent to the losses that these 15 days will represent for each family living in this area, an estimated 105 USD.

Also, President Martín Vizcarra ordered the closure of its borders for 15 days. In Peru, 395 positive cases have already been confirmed, and 6,269 tests have been ruled out.

The Ministry of Education postponed the start of the school year, which was scheduled for March 16. The health emergency and mandatory home isolation of people entering the country from Italy, Spain, France, and China have been in effect since March 18.

At a press conference, President Vizcarra announced that there would be a multinational effort to calculate the economic impact of the pandemic and to request resources from international organizations.

Uruguay, an exponential increase in cases

Uruguay was one of the last countries in the region to confirm positive cases. Following this, on March 13, the government announced the closure of schools for two weeks.

It also declared a health emergency and decided to close the land, air and river borders with neighboring Argentina, forcing any person coming from a country at risk to go into a 14-day quarantine.

On March 20, flights from Europe were suspended. On Sunday, Uruguay’s Ministry of Health confirmed that the number of cases rose to 158, with 23 new cases. He added that almost all were mild and that only one was in intensive care.

Venezuela, dictatorship takes advantage of the pandemic to exercise greater social controls

Venezuela is undoubtedly one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to face the pandemic. The COVID-19 could represent catastrophe in the country for obvious reasons: the lack of water in a large part of the territory, including hospitals. The enormous vulnerability of the population concerning their immune systems, basic deficiencies of food and vitamin supplements that imply low defenses against any disease, the enormous problem of electricity. The destroyed economy, social problems, and, as if that were not enough, decrease in remittances from Venezuelans abroad due to the global crisis.

Many Venezuelans do not even have access to clean water (EFE).

On top of this, Maduro’s regime has covered up cases of COVID-19 and is trying to use statistics to claim supposed control of the situation. The official figures (77 cases) of the regime contradict each other. Moreover, there are already known leaks that the regime hid positive cases of Venezuelan military from Iran who, in turn, infected medical personnel in Caracas.

According to the legitimate interim President Juan Guaidó, the approximate number of positive cases in Venezuela is 200, more than double the official number declared by Chavismo.

Measures by the regime

Maduro initially declared a quarantine for seven states. On March 17, it was extended to the entire country, making Venezuela the second country in the region to decree mandatory isolation. Flights abroad were also almost completely suspended.

Every traveler from Europe who arrived in March was supposed to go into compulsory quarantine. Classes were suspended, as were sporting events, and public gatherings were banned. Further, the dictatorship ordered that only take-away food be offered from restaurants and asked for the suspension of any activity in discos and bars.

Maduro declared a “permanent emergency” to the health system, and the Venezuelan Ministry of Health published a list of “sentry hospitals,” which are 46 hospital centers scattered around the country. These, according to the regime, were equipped with the necessary means to treat patients infected with COVID-19. But the inescapable reality is that this country faces a shortage of any basic supplies and the most notable scarcity in the entire region.

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