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How Latin America is Handling the Coronavirus Crisis

It has been 108 days since Latin America reported its first case of Covid-19, and since then, conditions have continued to decline for the most part.

Brazil currently has one of the highest numbers of cases and deaths due to coronavirus, trailing only behind the United States. According to many health officials, Brazil is projected to reach about 1 million cases and 50,000 deaths by June 20 (if its current trend remains constant). Part of the reason for Brazil’s rapid escalation in Covid-19 cases is its population-to-testing-capacity ratio; with the resources that are available to Brazil, it is difficult for the country to efficiently administer coronavirus tests to all those who require it. Oftentimes, cases of Covid-19 go unregistered or are registered as common respiratory illnesses like SARS and are treated as such. As seen in most misdiagnoses, the medication provided becomes ineffective and null, unable to help the patient recover from his/her illness. Brazil is yet to reach its peak death rate due to coronavirus.

Brazil is also experiencing an interesting phenomenon among its gangs. Many Braziliean favelas (isolated rural areas) have no access to state-provided healthcare, hence young gang members have taken it upon themselves to help flatten the curve. The same cartels that push drugs and other narcotics, are now enforcing strict curfews and social-distancing rules, and delivering groceries. Although enforcing quarantine orders in favelas are extremely difficult due to the lack of information in such areas, gang members still attempt to do so. Gang members have even educated themselves on Covid-19 and effective treatment options for the infection. When asked about hydroxychloroquine (a supposed treatment option that has since been debunked), a gang member responded saying, “I don't think hydroxychloroquine helps. It's BS. Everything that comes to Brazil from abroad has already been contaminated."

Mexico, on the other hand, experienced the peak of its outbreak this past week. Mexico recorded over a thousand deaths in one day, and many spikes in new cases. Mexico, like Brazil, has a low testing capacity, so many health officials claim that it is possible for many new cases and deaths due to coronavirus to have gone unrecorded.

Another commonality between both Mexico and Brazil is that, although the number of cases and deaths seem to be rising, both countries are encouraging reopening and resuming business. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, most non-essential businesses are beginning to reopen for business. As for Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) announced, “Don't steal, don't rob, don't betray, and that helps a lot with not getting the coronavirus,” which does not fully align with what the Deputy Health Secretary of Mexico had to say about the virus. In the midst of the global pandemic, AMLO also recently inaugurated the building of “the Maya Train,” an inter-state railway project.

Moving deeper into Latin America, Peru is currently seeing a rapid rise in prices for oxygen tanks. As the number of patients affected by Covid-19 increases, so does the demand for healthcare products like ventilators and oxygen tanks; a demand which is now being abused by private black-market sellers. However, Peru has a far higher testing capacity for the virus, which helps Peruvian health authorities to make more accurate judgement calls regarding the reopening of the country. Presently, Peru is in its second phase of reopening, with non-essential businesses ready to operate.

Although Latin America has struggled with managing the effects of the pandemic, one country has emerged as being fairly successful with their handling of Covid-19: Uruguay. It is quite interesting that Uruguay borders Brazil, one of the hardest hit countries, yet has one of the lowest numbers of reported cases in the world (834 cases). Uruguay’s success can be attributed to their early response to the pandemic, efficient isolation methods and available testing, and the creation of a “crisis response committee.” Uruguay also received $20 million from the World Bank in early-May to carry out its plan to minimize the effects of coronavirus. Uruguay’s comprehensive strategy to battle the pandemic and the consequential economic crisis has been deemed one of the best in the world. Uruguay’s preparedness also gives it a less risky reopening compared to other Latin American countries. As of today, Uruguay is on track to begin the business as usual without many setbacks and stands as an example for the rest of the region.

Authored by Sanjana Sharma

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