South America has seen a sharp rise in the number of new COVID-19 cases for the past few weeks, even while countries in Europe and Asia have begun to relax their lockdown measures.

On Sunday June 28, Latin America and the Caribbean recorded 2,432,245 infections (1,319,274 of which are in Brazil) with 110,6821 deaths and 1,373,504 cases in recovery.

The surge in the COVID-19 figures is due to the loose lockdown, non-synchronized responses from governments and worsened by massive economic inequality.

Brazil Has the Second-Highest Number of COVID-19 Cases in the World

Brazil — the largest country in the region — has recorded the world’s second-highest numbers of COVID-19 infections behind the U.S. As of Monday, June 29, Brazil had 1,345,254 cases, with 733,848 cases in recovery and 57,658 deaths.

The alarming amount of COVID-19 cases in the country are at least partly due to the mishandling by President Jair Bolsonaro, who underestimated the virus from the beginning, claiming it was a “little flu”. COVID-19 has symptoms similar to common flu such as cough and sore throat but is potentially much more serious.

The former army captain also ignored health protocols by not wearing a face mask and shunning physical distancing while attending a mass rally. He opposes lockdown measures for the sake of sustaining economic activity. Bolsonaro’s responses to the pandemic led to the resignation of the country’s health minister, Nelson Teich, who served for just one month.

‘We’re Fighting Against the Coronavirus and Against the Bolsonaro Virus’

Teich replaced Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who was fired by the president after calling on all citizens to stay at home to prevent the further spread of the virus. Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic also triggered a stand-off with Brazil’s state governors, with one of them calling the president’s approach the “Bolsonaro virus”.

“We’re fighting against the coronavirus and against the Bolsonaro virus,” said Joao Doria, governor of Brazil’s densely-populated state Sao Paolo, adding that Bolsonaro’s has taken “incorrect, irresponsible positions,” in dealing with the pandemic.

Brazil’s states and cities have adopted their quarantine measures, different from the president’s policy. Also, there is a rising concern over the spread of the virus in slum areas, indigenous communities, and areas with a lack of testing capacity.

Research from The University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated the death toll over COVID-19 in Brazil could exceed 125,000 in August.

Chile’s Health Minister Resigned Over COVID-19 Data Discrepancy

On Sunday, June 28, Chile’s total COVID-19 cases reached 271,982, with 232,210 cases in recovery and 5,509 deaths, according to official data.

Chile is one of the countries in the region that took early anticipatory measures to slow down the outbreak, such as the closure of borders and extensive testings. However, the quarantine policy did not help to control the number of new cases as the numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases surged in May.

In the middle of June, Chile’s then-health minister Jaime Manalich resigned amid the controversy over the numbers of COVID-19-related deaths.

Previously, Chile’s Sebastian Pinera government informed the public that the COVID-19 had taken over 3,000 lives since the first case emerged for the first time on March 3.

However, a report from an investigative journalism organization (CIPER) exposed that the government informed the World Health Organization (WHO) that the COVID-19-related death toll had exceeded 5,000. The organization got a copy of the country’s health ministry document handed over to the United Nations (U.N) health body, CNA reported.

Chileans took to the streets demanding food aid during the lockdown measures, which led to chaos. President Pinera promised to deliver support to the most vulnerable groups of people.

Peru Scrapped Lockdown Despite Rising Infection Numbers

As of Monday, June 29, Peru has 279,419 COVID-19 cases, with 9,317 deaths and 167,998 cases in recovery.

“Although the number of cases in the country is still high, there has been a decrease in infections in recent weeks,” the country’s health minister Victor Zamora said, cited in Menafn.

After imposing social restrictions for about three months, Peru decided to end the policy on June 30 despite the rising numbers of new COVID-19 cases. The Andean nation has gradually reopened its economy. The pandemic has worsened the economy as at the end of this year, Peru is estimated to lose 4.2 million of jobs.

Other Countries in South America are Performing Relatively Well

Uruguay, the tiny nation in the region, has successfully dealt with the pandemic as the country had only 847 COVID-19 cases, with 23 deaths as of June 14.

The country’s president Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, never issued a lockdown measure, but Uruguay quickly imposed a social distancing policy and conducted a massive testing program, as BBC reported. Uruguay’s long history of less income inequality and trust in political institutions has been one of the most important keys to its successful tackling of the pandemic.

Uruguay’s larger neighbor Argentina slapped a quarantine on March 20, and citizens complied with the social restrictions. The Alberto Fernandez government provided financial aid to low-wage workers to help them survive the crisis, as Reuters reported. Even though the policy could trigger inflation and will increase the government’s debt, at least Argentina prioritizes its people during the health crisis.

Shining Star: Cuba

Cuba has been the leading example of how a country should deal with the pandemic. The communist state is widely known for its excellent healthcare and qualified medical workers, who have done extensive work to visit residents and interview them to discover and document new COVID-19 cases.

The country even sent its doctors to some of the hardest-hit nations around the world, such as Italy. Cuba guarantees that every citizen has access to healthcare. Despite people in the country making a monthly wage of around only $20 USD, the government works to ensure their wellbeing. 

The ratio is one doctor for ever 150 Cubans, which is an outstanding figure compared to other developed nations. The United States, for example, with its private healthcare system has only 0.4 doctors per 150 people. Therefore, Cuba’s success story during this pandemic — while richer nations are still struggling deeply — should come as no surprise.

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