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Coronavirus: Latest updates in Latin America

While Brazilian president seems unaware of devastating effects of virus, Salvadoran president takes all necessary actions

Laura Gamba   | 13.04.2020
Coronavirus: Latest updates in Latin America

BOGOTA, Colombia

After watching the dramatic course of events in Italy and Spain due to the coronavirus outbreak, countries in South America are desperately trying to adopt measures to prevent deaths and soften the economic impact of the pandemic.

However, health workers in some Latin American countries are suffering from shortages of protective equipment and some countries report their health systems are already overwhelmed even though experts predict the peak of infection has not been reached in most of the region.

Although the entire continent has taken action against the pandemic, the Brazilian president is still encouraging people to ignore measures imposed by local governments. At the other end, El Salvador's president has been accused of dismissing people's civil rights in an attempt to enforce social isolation measures at all costs.

All figures shared are compiled according to data from the U.S-based Johns Hopkins University in Maryland as of Friday.

Brazil

The state at the epicenter of Brazil's coronavirus cases is Sao Paulo, where over 44 million people live, nearly 40% of the country's population. In the city of Sao Paulo, where a partial quarantine is in place, which means people are advised to stay in their homes but not forced to do so, a system of local authorities monitoring mobile phones indicated that, on Sunday April 12, only 50% of the city's nearly 13 million inhabitants remained in their homes. According to the Ministry of Health, there are 588 deaths and 8,755 cases of COVID-19 in Sao Paulo so far.

In addition to the threat COVID-19 stands for favelas, there are growing fears about what the pandemic will mean for Brazil's indigenous communities. These tribes in the Amazon rainforest are particularly vulnerable to diseases coming in from outside, because they have not been in contact with the germs against which much of the world has developed immunity. Authorities in the region have expressed concern since it became known a 15-year-old Amazon tribe teenager died after contracting the virus.

However, the growing number of deaths and infections in Brazil, do not seem to convince Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro of the need to strengthen isolation measures.

On Sunday Bolsonaro criticized the social distancing measures implemented by many governors and mayors of the country. "In addition to the virus, we now also have unemployment, the result of this 'shut everything down' and 'stay at home' or 'I'll arrest you'. For any disproportionate action, the reaction is also strong. The government seeks dialogue and solutions to all problems, not just to one," wrote the right wing leader on his Twitter account.

The comments minimizing the effects of the pandemic aroused harsh criticism from Human Rights Watch on Saturday. "Bolsonaro is sabotaging the efforts of governors and his own Health Ministry to contain the spread of COVID-19, putting the lives and health of Brazilians at risk," says a statement signed by HRW's Americas Division Director, José Miguel Vivanco.

The number of deaths from coronavirus in Brazil reached 1,245 and the number of infected people nationwide is 22,625. However, experts warn that the actual number of confirmed cases is probably much higher, given limited testing capacity. The number of deaths in the country more than doubled in one week, from 432 on March 11.

Mexico

As coronavirus confirmed cases have increased in Mexico to 4,661 and 296 deaths, discrimination and attacks against medical personnel have grown due to the fear people have of getting infected.

Media outlets in Mexico report a nurse was sprayed with chlorine by an unknown person in the northern state of Sinaloa and a health worker was beaten up when she went to buy a coffee at a store in the central state of San Luis Potosi on April 2.

Mexico reports 442 new cases of coronavirus and 23 new deaths. However, Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said last week the country might have 26,500 people infected with the fast-spreading coronavirus.

Ecuador

In Ecuador the situation remains critical. Almost 800 bodies have been collected from homes in hard-hit Guayaquil by police as coronavirus continues to take its toll on the coastal city.

Companies have started donating coffins where they were using cardboard boxes to bury the dead, while the Mayor of Guayaquil Cynthia Viteri clashes with the government over the authorities' inability to control the situation.

President Lenin Moreno published on his Twitter account on Sunday that he had ordered a 50% reduction in his salary and that of his entire cabinet.

“I have ordered a 50% reduction in the monthly income of the President, Vice President, Ministers and Deputy Ministers,” he wrote.

A few hours later Viteri announced that she will donate her entire salary to a women's program to guarantee the births of children in the city.

“Many people have left us as a result of this terrible disease, but also many babies are coming into the world to keep our beautiful city alive,” she tweeted.

The country recorded 355 deaths, and over 7,500 confirmed cases.

El Salvador

While Brazil Bolsonaro tries to enforce a normal life, in El Salvador the president tightens measures without considering the possible consequences on personal freedoms.

Ignoring a Supreme Court order to refrain from confiscating cars and arresting people who failed to comply with the mandatory home quarantine, President Nayib Bukele announced over the weekend that those who drive cars will be sent to containment centers for 30 days while their driver’s license and vehicle will be seized.

Human rights leader Jose Miguel Vivanco affirmed that the president is breaking the rule of law by challenging a judicial resolution that prohibits arrests of those who break the quarantine.

As of Monday, the Central American country of some 6.5 million people had 137 cases of coronavirus, and six deaths.

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