Novel coronavirus deaths outside China are now higher than those inside China, and countries around the world are mobilizing to prevent and prepare for the worst. As of this writing 3,200 deaths from coronavirus have been officially recorded as opposed to 3,400 outside of China. As France24 recently reported, the nations of South America are circling the wagons and shutting down borders to combat coronavirus.
South and Central American nations already have numerous recorded cases and Guatemala had its first coronavirus death on March 15. In total, 17 Latin American nations now have recorded cases of coronavirus. With less agile and hardy health systems, South America and Central America are taking steps to minimize risk by closing borders.
South and Central America Border Closures
Entry to Argentina is prohibited to foreigners for the next 15 days — extended to 30 days for foreigners who have been to a nation significantly impacted by coronavirus in the past two weeks. Argentina has also stopped approving visas for foreigners who apply. Peru has frozen all air and maritime transport and requested Peruvians to self-quarantine for the next 15 days. Elsewhere in South America, Colombia — with 34 cases currently listed — has shut down borders to non-residents and foreigners and closed all schools and universities starting March 16. Colombia also now prohibits cruise ships from docking and is shutting down its border with Venezuela.
Panama has closed its borders to foreigners and non-residents. Panama is the worst hit nation in South or Central America thus far, with 55 confirmed cases as of March 14 and everything in the country has been ordered closed except grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals and medical clinics. Honduras — whose healthcare system is already in disarray as the nation suffers from widespread corruption, gang violence and poverty — has set limits on how many people may congregate in public and has closed all land borders for the next seven days except for trade. President Juan Hernandez of Honduras has also closed most businesses and services in the country except for essentials like petrol stations and grocery stores. Costa Rica, which is currently announcing 35 coronavirus cases is also taking measures to limit public gatherings and shut down non-essential daily activities.
Further north in North America, Mexico is also struggling with coronavirus, with 41 cases as of this writing. Mexico’s left-wing leader López Obrador (“Amlo”) has apparently decided to revamp Oprah’s Book Club with Obrador’s Book Club, and told Mexicans to read Love in the Time of Cholera by the celebrated late Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Obrador says that the book will help them get through the tough times and bring “calm.” Obrador has appeared numerous times in public hugging and kissing supporters and has not taken as dramatic measures as other nations including the US so far in response to the coronavirus.
Venezuela’s Uniquely Terrible Healthcare Situation
Already struggling under strong American-led sanctions and an embargo, Venezuela is in an especially high-risk position in South America with regards to coronavirus. Venezuelan Nicolas Maduro has called for a “drastic phase” of collective quarantine that he says will require “great social discipline.” Travel between Venezuela and Europe and various Central and South American nations is already prohibited and education is shut down throughout the country. Although it still has only 17 cases of coronavirus, Venezuela is particularly susceptible to an all-out public health emergency and to a large-scale breakdown from the virus. Maduro told people to find “creative” ways to make their own face masks and urged Venezuelans to look on social media for ideas and do-it-yourself guides. Maduro tweeted March 15 that if not properly responded to coronavirus could “bring down our country badly and tragically as is happening in Europe.”
Brazilian President Bolsonaro Tests Negative for Coronavirus
Meanwhile Latin America’s largest economy of Brazil is also taking measures against coronavirus. The nation has 200 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 1,913 suspected cases as of this writing. The majority of cases are in Brazil’s largest state of São Paulo, which is home to the nation’s largest city of São Paulo whose population exceeds 10.6 million. So far Brazil has closed down most schools and public events in order to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, although critics say more must be done and characterize the government as reckless and incompetent in its response.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro recently tested negative for coronavirus. He took the test after his communications secretary Fabio Wajngarten tested positive for the virus. Brazil’s acting Charge d’Affaires Nestor Forster and Bolsonaro’s lawyer Karina Kufa also tested positive for the virus and were — along with Wajngarten — part of a group that met at length with US President Donald Trump and other leading government officials on March 7 at Trump’s Mar-a-lago estate in Florida.
Bolsonaro had been advised by his physicians to isolate himself until next week, but is so far dismissing the recommendation. He was seen taking selfies with large crowds of his supporters Sunday using their cellphones despite having previously told them to stay inside in response to the virus. Similarly to Mexican leader Obrador, Bolsonaro has chosen not to focus on the coronavirus and to try to lift people’s spirits instead. Bolsonaro has previously slammed the “mainstream media” for its coverage of coronavirus, saying on March 10 that much of it is “fantasy.”
The Path Forward for Latin America Against Coronavirus
As Latin America faces coronavirus the road ahead could be more rocky than many expect. Particularly for poorer Central American nations beset by crime and decaying healthcare systems the fight is going to be tough — even moreso for Venezuela. The reckless behavior of leaders like Bolsonaro is ill-advised, as are the antics of Obrador, but extreme alarmism in other countries could also make matters worse if it leads to bank runs, food shortages and economic collapse. The best course is to take the coronavirus very seriously at this point, stockpile food and water and avoid public gatherings, including self-quarantining if possible; however psychological health is also crucial in times of international crisis so it is also important not to let the virus dominate every thought. It remains to be seen if Latin America’s border closures will begin to have an impact on lowering infection rates, but the clear insight thus far from the coronavirus pandemic is that testing capacity, readiness and self-quarantining are keys to preventing its spread, rather than shutting down entry after cases are already on the rise inside the country.