Swiss Tages Anzeiger’s take on COVID-19 in Latam

Our researchers Felicia Knaul and Michael Touchton were quoted in the following article in Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger in discussion about Latin America’s situation in the current pandemic. The following text is a AI-produced translation of the original article, available here.

As if Corona had never existed

In many large cities in Latin America, people are behaving as they were before the pandemic. That Could lead to a public health disaster.

by Simon Widmer, 09/23/2020, 1:13PM

No social distancing, no masks: Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro (September 13). 
Photo: Antonio Lacerda (EPA) 

On the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, the pandemic appears to be over. At least in the minds of the numerous people who linger on the kilometers of coastline of Ipanema or Copacabana. Children build sand castles, adults bathe in the sun or play volleyball. Hardly anyone keeps their distance or wears a protective mask.

Even more mobile than before the pandemic

In other large cities in Latin America, too, people are behaving almost like they did before the pandemic. Professors Michael Touchton and Felicia Knaul from the University of Miami systematically evaluated movement data in the region . The data shows that in five Brazilian states, people are even more mobile than they were before the Corona crisis. “Also in the state of Amazonas, which is particularly badly affected,” says Michael Touchton.

This finding is in line with Bloomberg’s analysis . In São Paulo the cars back up again during rush hour, the traffic in Mexico City, which fell to around 14 percent of the normal level in mid-April, is now at 70 percent of the pre-Corona level. In Santiago de Chile, people move only 13 percent less than before the Corona measures.

Eight percent of the world’s population lives in Latin America, but the region has a third of the world’s infections and deaths.

Of course, the desire to return to a life without major restrictions is understandable. Many Latin American countries imposed severe lockdowns in March. For long months, citizens were only allowed to leave their homes when absolutely necessary. Many workers in the informal sector were faced with existential difficulties. You work without a contract, without unemployment benefit or health insurance.

Eight percent of the world’s population lives in Latin America, but the region has a third of the world’s infections and deaths. The previous opening steps were not accompanied by any accompanying measures. “Many countries have lifted corona restrictions without setting up the tests and contact tracing. That is potentially very dangerous, ”says Felicia Knaul.

Believed his honesty and amulets protected him: The Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on the national holiday in mid-September. 
Photo. Henry Romero (Reuters)

The rapid opening has now called the World Health Organization (WHO) on the scene. WHO Regional Director Carissa Etienne is critical of the easing strategies in Latin America. The region has started to return to normal social and public life, although major interventions are still needed to contain the pandemic. “We have to be aware that opening it too early gives this virus more space to spread and puts our populations at greater risk,” says Etienne.

Felicia Knaul regrets that Brazil and Mexico are precisely the most populous countries with the worst health policies. Both Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his Mexican counterpart Andrés Manuel López Obrador have downplayed the dangers of the virus, she says.

Tourism as a risk factor

Bolsonaro continues to maintain that Covid-19 is no more dangerous than the flu, and propagates the drug hydroxychloroquine, whose positive effect against the coronavirus is unlikely based on current scientific knowledge. López Obrador recently said flippantly that only when there was no more corruption in the country would he also wear a face mask. At the beginning of the pandemic, he had claimed that his honesty and amulets, which he had received from his followers, would protect him.

Carissa Etienne sees another risk factor: international tourism, which many countries want to stimulate again. International flights from some countries to Colombia have been possible again since the beginning of the week. From October Edelweiss will be offering a direct flight from Zurich to Cancun , Mexico . Etienne warns that governments need to monitor tourist traffic very carefully, as reopening to tourism could lead to setbacks. This has happened in the Caribbean, where several countries with virtually no cases peaked after tourism resumed.

Disclaimer: All content translated here belongs to Simon Widmer and Tages Anzeiger. It has been translated using Google’s page Translate for ease of reading by our Observatory’s online visitors.