The priority is to save lives

As Covid-19 started to take hold in the countries of Latin America, I wanted to look at how the countries of the region were coping. The daily round-up of developments in the crisis that El País has been publishing illustrates the starkly opposing strategies adopted by different administrations, particularly at the start of the crisis in March. While Nayib Bukele, the president of El Salvador, was imposing compulsory, and enthusiastically policed, quarantine measures, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega’s initial response was to ban the use of face masks, even by medical staff, although he was subsequently forced to change direction. Ecuador rapidly became one of the worst affected countries and had to introduce strict curfew measures in an attempt to bring the spread under control, but El País reports that its economy is under severe strain from the combined effects of the lockdown and the fall in international oil prices.

The two countries with the highest death totals from the pandemic are now Brazil and Mexico. Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador held off from imposing a total lockdown although non-essential activities were shut down. The country is now cautiously re-activating some areas, but not fast enough for some: in Landau cuestiona plan de reactivación industrial de AMLO, La Política Online reports criticisms from the US ambassador to Mexico that the government’s plans to loosen restrictions, including in the critical automotive sector, are too limited and are impacting negatively on the supply chain to US companies.

In Brazil the approach has been different: far-right president Jair Bolsonaro declared a state of emergency but did not impose any lockdown measures. Individual states have, however, and La Política Online reports on the running battle between Bolsonaro and those state governors, backed up by the supreme court, in Protestas de los seguidores de Bolsonaro contra la Corte Suprema y la cuarantena. Business leaders invited to participate in one typically theatrical protest organised by the president were at pains to distance themselves from his position. But behind the rhetoric, the article highlights the grim economic realities that are driving Bolsonaro’s approach: a massive drop in economic activity in a country where both supply and demand has been hit by the pandemic. LPO quotes the example of the automotive industry here too – only 1,847 cars produced in April, out of a normal 267,000. According to LPO, Brazil is facing the imminent collapse of its health system under the weight of Covid cases. And El País tells the story of one family’s desperate, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to find an intensive care bed for 66 year-old Ivanildo Vieira Damasceno in Fortaleza in north-east Brazil; none of the local hospitals could admit him to their ICU units and he died on 3 May.