Sources: NYT and CNN
As global cases of the coronavirus near nine million and deaths reach just shy of half a million, most countries have successfully stabilized the spread of the disease within their own borders. South Korea and Germany, both praised for their intense and fast-acting response to the virus, have emerged as clear leaders in the effort to reduce transmission of the disease. In larger nations such as the United States and United Kingdom, there is less certainty and security surrounding the rise of coronavirus cases as transmission is showing an upward trend.
Despite the fact that the rate of global coronavirus transmission has plateaued, many areas such as Southeast Asia and the Americas see a continual rise of infections and hospitalizations due to lack of testing and medical equipment. The region most affected by the virus is arguably Latin America, the only one where coronavirus cases have steadily increased since the global pandemic began over four months ago.
In Central and South America, national leaders fear that the “first wave” of the coronavirus has not even set in, and that the “second wave” will onset much sooner than expected. The WHO stated in a report that the region “has not even reached peak transmission yet,” indicating that Latin America will face a sudden and devastating blow once the global “second wave” of the virus arrives in late summer/early fall.
Latin America is uniquely positioned to be severely impacted by the virus as the region is dangerously vulnerable to the spread of disease. Low socio-economic status, high populations and crowding, and corrupt government leaders have all aided the spread of misinformation and distrust in health officials. Additionally, the percent of infected individuals who choose/are able to get tested is significantly lower in Latin America than in the rest of the world due to lack of available tests, so the observable effects of the virus are much milder than the actual rate of transmission in Latin America.
Here is an overview of the coronavirus situation in several countries in Latin America:
This week alone Mexico reached a record high of 1,000 new cases in a single day, and it maintained these alarmingly high rates for three days in a row. Although Mexico has only reported ~13,000 deaths of its ~110,000 cases, health experts estimate that Mexico actually has millions of unreported coronavirus cases, attributed to the federal government’s lack of coronavirus tests/proper equipment to manage the spread of the virus.
Overall President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been an effective leader during this crisis: he has encouraged Mexicans to abide by social distancing regulations and wash their hands frequently, and is cooperative with local authorities. However, the AMLO government (as it is referred to by Mexicans) has its flaws; Obrador is eagerly championing for an early reopening that the country simply cannot handle. President Obrador has had to change his proposed date of national reopening three times before eventually admitting in early June that he had “no idea” when the country would actually be prepared to ease back on coronavirus restrictions. In a publicized statement, he told Mexicans not to “steal [from], rob, or betray” their communities in order to protect the economy and their safety.
The nation’s leading health expert, Deputy Health Secretary Hugo López Gatell, has repeatedly implored Mexicans to stay home to avoid further transmission of the virus. Despite the President’s optimistic messaging, he stated, Mexico is far from being socio-economically stable enough to reopen without fear of a total collapse.
The nation, which accounts for roughly half of South America’s landmass, is emerging as a new epicenter for coronavirus cases. Brazil currently has over 1.15 million cases and 52,000 deaths.
Health experts in Brazil estimate that the country’s death toll could soon surpass the US’s 120,000+ to make the South American country the global epicenter of coronavirus deaths. The nation is currently ranked third for total coronavirus deaths, but by the end of July, Brazil is predicted to surpass the United Kingdom to have the second-highest coronavirus death count in the world.
Like Mexico, Brazil has disproportionately low numbers of testing, partially due to lack of supplies, and partially due to errors with registering and reporting positive cases. Oftentimes cases are falsely recorded as a variant of SARS, an acute respiratory disease which is similar to a strain of coronavirus and has identical symptoms.
This means that Brazil’s already alarmingly high infection rates are most likely larger by millions of cases, which would put Brazil at the top spot for national infections. Despite this, parts of the country are already reopening. Rio De Janiero, the nation’s largest city, is allowing citizens to go back to non-essential businesses such as churches, decoration/home stores, and car shops.
Peru is the country with the second-highest number of coronavirus infections in South America. Unlike other countries in Central and South America, Peru has significantly higher and more accurate testing rates as tests are widely accessible and public testing is actively promoted by the government. This alarms medical experts, who claim that Peru’s 187,400 cases for a population of only 32 million illustrates how widespread the coronavirus actually is in South America.
Amidst the crisis, residents reported that the price of oxygen tanks and other medical necessities has skyrocketed, causing desperate Peruvians to pay up to 100% markups (double price) for these supplies. The federal government acknowledges that this is an issue, and that the pandemic has added the task of suppressing the medical black market. In a statement, Cesar Chaname, a spokesperson for Peru’s public health agency, stated the following: “our mission is to avoid the development of a black market that is mercantile and uses a pandemic to abuse people.”
The nation currently faces immense economic pressure to reopen as many citizens have been plunged into poverty. Community- and government- run soup kitchens are bombarded by Peruvians and often run out of food after only a few hours. President Martin Vizcarra has already implemented Phase 2 of Peru’s economic reopening, which he claimed was 80% of a total reopening.
Vizcarra stated in an interview that “[Peru] can’t support 100% of the country’s needs with just 50% of the economy’s output,” referencing the significant amount of Peruvians who are unemployed and impoverished.
Unlike its counterparts, Brazil’s southern neighbor provides a breath of fresh air for researchers as Uruguay has under 1,000 confirmed cases and only 25 deaths. Schools reopened in rural communities on June 1st and many shops and businesses have reopened since May, when coronavirus restrictions were eased.
Uruguay’s government has taken a “robust early response” to combat the coronavirus, including rapid and widespread testing, the creation of a government crisis response committee, and using a standardized system to trace and isolate people with the virus. The government has also enforced a mandatory quarantine for anyone showing symptoms of coronavirus to prevent further transmission.
It’s evident that different leadership styles contribute to varying successes of the federal governments to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. Perhaps the efforts of the Uruguayan government can serve as a statement to our own, in that it illustrates how a leader need not have global recognition or a massive wealth of resources to effectively prevent the spread of disease and rehabilitate society.