In Latin America the coronavirus epidemic came later, but it did come


In late May, the World Health Organization identified Latin America as the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. The Latin American countries had overtaken both Europe and the United States in terms of the number of positive cases ascertained, and particularly serious situations were seen in Brazil, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, where there was already talk of systems sanitation to the extreme and lack of health personnel and intensive care beds. Since then the situation has worsened further.

In Latin America, the coronavirus epidemic came a few weeks later than in Europe and the United States. The Washington Post he wrote that many on the continent thought they could escape it, perhaps because of the warmer climate, the younger population, or simply because there had been more time to prepare for the emergency. But things went differently. Although some of the hardest hit countries have adopted different approaches – imposing almost total lockdowns after ascertaining the first cases, such as Peru, introducing few restrictions, like Brazil, or closing their borders, like Argentina – the result has been similar in different areas of the continent: many contagions, and many deaths.

The most serious situation seems to be that of Brazil, which to date is the second country in the world by number of positive cases ascertained (and also in Brazil, as in many other states, the cases ascertained are those that tested positive for the swab, which is done almost exclusively to the most serious patients who end up in hospital). Brazil has also been talked about a lot for the statements and decisions of its president, Jair Bolsonaro, who continued to minimize the danger of the virus and condemn the quarantine and physical distancing measures decided by the Brazilian governors and mayors.

Brazil recorded the highest number of coronavirus deaths daily since the outbreak on June 4: 1,473. Last week, the Pan-American Health Organization (OPS), an international health agency that works to improve the health and living standards of people in the Americas, published a document calling on Brazil to extend the quarantine imposed by various states in the country. At the moment it is not clear what local governments will decide to do, which however have shown themselves to be much more determined than Bolsonaro in imposing the restrictive measures.

A cemetery in Rio de Janeiro, 5 June 2020 (AP Photo / Leo Correa)

In addition to Brazil, however, there are other countries in very critical situations.

Mexico is the second Latin American country with the highest number of known infections, after Brazil: there are more than 100 thousand, while the dead are almost 12 thousand. Initially the government had underestimated the epidemic. At the beginning of April, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, spoke of a situation under control and argued that “exaggeration” should not be avoided: among other things, he invited people to go out and go to the restaurant, attended public meetings while maintaining numerous physical contacts with those present, and showed amulets as antidotes to the virus. He said “honesty” was the best defense.

In late April, the Mexican government suspended all non-essential economic activities and asked people to stay home and practice physical distancing. However, López Obrador continued to defend his initial choices, claiming that «the strategy [per combattere il virus] it was the right one ».

Gerasela Llanos prepares a coffin inside her company in Lima, in the Juan de Lurigancho district, 4 June 2020 (AP Photo / Rodrigo Abd)

In Peru, although the restrictive measures have been imposed earlier than many other Latin American countries, the confirmed cases of contagion have exceeded 180 thousand, while the deaths declared by the authorities have so far been just over 5 thousand: a not very credible number, given that in May alone there were about 14 thousand more deaths than in the same month of the previous year. One of the consequences of the emergency was that many of Lima’s ten million inhabitants returned to their hometowns, often in the countryside because there is no more work in the city.

The situation is also critical in Chile and Ecuador. At the end of May, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera had said that the Chilean health system was “very close to the limit”, due to a significant and rapid increase in the cases ascertained in the previous days. Chile has lower overall numbers than many other Latin American countries, but on June 3 it recorded the maximum number of coronavirus deaths in one day, since the beginning of the epidemic: 87. Much higher numbers were recorded from Ecuador , where the national health system did not cope with the April surge, and where scenes of corpses abandoned on the street or buried in cardboard coffins were seen.

Bolivian citizens outside the Bolivian consulate of Santiago de Chile to ask to return to their country, 2 June 2020 (AP Photo / Esteban Felix)

It is not easy to clearly identify the reasons that led to such a crisis in Latin America.

One of these was most likely the difficulty of enforcing the rules of physical distancing between people, even in countries where the most restrictive restrictive measures were introduced. According to Washington Post, it happened due to some characteristics inherent in many Latin American societies: social inequalities, poor trust in institutions, very weak national health systems, large sections of the population forced to work even in emergency situations in order to survive, or to live in favelas in particularly overcrowded urban suburbs.

Luis Felipe López-Calva, director for Latin America of the United Nations Development Program, said: “The crisis has been interacting with the structural problems that Latin America has had for a long time and these structural issues are exacerbating the effect of health shock “.

For containment policies to be successful, several analysts argue, both population support for the measures taken and a sufficiently robust aid system for the poorest are needed. Both are elements that are missing in different areas of Latin America, where access to aid is difficult and minimum wages are very low. Today, it shows a study published by Washington Post, only half of Latin Americans are in favor of democracy, while trust in the media, institutions and policies adopted to contain the coronavirus has collapsed.

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