Americas, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

Latin America trails other regions in COVID-19 testing

Countries in region not performing enough tests to grasp dimensions of pandemic

Laura Gamba   | 24.04.2020
Latin America trails other regions in COVID-19 testing Health officials test bloods donated by residents, in the face of the health emergency throughout the national territory and the adoption of measures aimed at preventing and controlling the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), blood centers throughout the country are experiencing a significant drop in donations at the National Institute of Cancerology in Bogota, Colombia on April 08, 2020. ( Juancho Torres - Anadolu Agency )

BOGOTA, Colombia

As the coronavirus continues to make its way across the globe, governments are taking urgent measures to stem its spread.  

In Europe, where it has caused thousands of deaths, it is in the process of being contained. The US continues to be the center of the pandemic, and although its arrival in Latin America has been slower, it poses just as much of a threat.   

Since Brazil confirmed the first case in Latin America on Feb. 26 in Sao Paulo, the region has counted more than 125,000 cases as of April 23. And while Brazil leads in the number of cases and deaths, the numbers remain low compared to other parts of the world. 

This may be due to the swift reaction of governments which closed land and air borders at an early stage and in most cases have imposed strict quarantine measures.   

But the low numbers could also be because Latin American and Caribbean governments do not have enough COVID-19 test coverage, which prevents them from knowing the actual situation in each country.  


As funeral parlors, hospitals and mortuaries reach capacity in the country hardest hit by the pandemic in the region, Brazil is looking for ways to increase testing to defeat the pandemic.

With a population of over 210 million, 46,701 reported cases and 2,940 fatalities nationwide, it has done only about 90,000 tests. Hospitalized patients are not being tested and neither are medical professionals.

Brazil's new Health Minister Nelson Teich announced this week that the country plans to purchase 46 million tests to detect the coronavirus and stressed that the measure is important in the government's plan to end the social distancing measures adopted so far.

"This is very important in the process which is being designed to better understand the disease, its evolution, and to carry out a project to evaluate social distancing," he said in a video distributed by his ministry's communications office.

Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo think Brazil has 15 times more coronavirus cases than the official numbers, while governors and mayors are complaining about a lack of medical supplies.


Although Ecuador and Chile have almost the same number of infections, Ecuador has more than three times the number of deaths as Chile.

Ecuador carried out around 35,000 tests for its population of 17.4 million as of April 22. Interior Minister María Paula Romo said Thursday that there are 11,183 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 560 deaths.

However, President Lenin Moreno himself has acknowledged that the country’s coronavirus toll may be much higher than indicated by official figures. There has been a big jump in deaths in Guayas, the region at the center of the country’s devastating outbreak, where there was a 5,700- death increase during the first 15 days of April.

While the country is trying to enhance its detection capacity, thousands of tests are still waiting to be processed in labs. Until last week, there was only one lab in the country that could process all the coronavirus tests.


With a population of about 19 million, Chile has 11,812 confirmed cases and 168 fatalities. Despite registering one of the highest infection rates in the region, Chile has a mortality rate similar to that of countries like South Korea.

Although Chile and Ecuador have similar numbers of coronavirus cases and about the same population, Chile has carried out four times as many tests, at 122,357, among the keys to having one of the lowest mortality rates in the region, according to authorities.  


In the region, only Brazil has more cases than Peru, which reported its first coronavirus case on March 6 and 47 days later reached 20,914. 

The government has gradually increased testing, and as of Wednesday, the country -- with a population of over 32 million -- had conducted 170,400 tests, one of the highest figures among its neighbors in the region. 


According to figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Mexico ranks last in COVID-19 testing at 0.2 per 1,000 people. In contrast, Iceland, the country that has performed the most tests, has a rate of 105.9 tests per 1,000 inhabitants.

With an estimated 10,544 cases and 970 reported fatalities, Mexico had only conducted around 49,000 tests as of April 18.


The island, which has 11.3 million people, has performed 32,276 tests and has reported 1,235 cases so far.

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