For a long time, the corona virus was hardly an issue in Latin America. Now more and more states are trying to curb the spread of COVID-19. El Salvador has not yet registered a case, but is closing completely.
The new type of corona virus does not stop at Latin America either. The lung disease COVID-19 has now gained a foothold in at least 18 countries. The countries with the most confirmed infections are currently Brazil (151), Chile (43), and Argentina (31), as of Saturday.
After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of the viral disease a pandemic last Wednesday, there appears to be a “consensus between experts, politicians and authorities in Latin America that it is now a matter of curbing the spread of COVID-19” Samuel Ponce de León, chief infectious disease doctor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), told El Financiero TV. The physician added that a “containment strategy should be at least a year or longer” because that would be the time that microbiologists needed to develop a reliable vaccine.
There are several hundred registered corona infections in Latin America and a few fatalities so far – the numbers naturally change continuously. In view of the far higher number of cases in other parts of the world, some countries in the region are sometimes implementing draconian measures to prevent further COVID-19 cases being brought in.
Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela announced temporary bans on flights from Europe on Thursday. In Argentina, Alberto Fernández, head of state, said flights from Europe, including the United States and China, would be stopped for 30 days. In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro also banned all flights from Europe for one month. Although no single corona virus infection is known in Central American El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele quarantined the entire country to “prevent the virus from arriving”.
From the plane straight to quarantine
In practical terms, this means that anyone who has been in Germany or France in the 30 days prior to their arrival is not allowed to enter El Salvador. Salvadoran citizens and diplomats from both countries are allowed to enter the country, but are quarantined for 30 days. A drastic measure announced by the President personally on Twitter, which on the one hand caused astonishment and applause in El Salvador, and on the other hand caused chaos at the airports, since at the time several planes were flying into the country.
In an interview with DW, Salvadoran virus expert Jorge Panameño supports the total isolation of the country: “I think the measure is appropriate because it is a pandemic.” It is important to keep the coronavirus outside the country for as long as possible, since El Salvador does not have the resources to stop a wave of infections. “The situation in Italy is catastrophic, but it could be much worse in Central America.”
But what might seem feasible in a country with six million inhabitants is probably not as easy to transfer to a larger state as Mexico, for example, with 125 million inhabitants.
“The circumstances are different in each country. The volume of the Mexican economy alone is many times larger than that of El Salvador,” says Jorge Panameño. The federal structure of Mexico and its states also play an important role in drawing up a plan to deal with the crisis.
For the Salvadoran medical professional, the most important thing now is effective measures that are based on the resources and possibilities of the country. “The biggest enemy is panic,” he emphasizes. He considers the dangers of the spread of the corona virus in Latin America to be exaggerated: “The measures now taken in Latin America, however drastic they may seem, only give us some time to work out national and international containment measures,” Panameño emphasizes. The main thing is to prevent a collapse of medical care and save lives. This applies to all Latin American countries.