“We unite in unprecedented ways to crush the virus, today there are no active cases in New Zealand,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on June 8th, making this country the first to lift almost all restrictions to combat coronavirus. Meanwhile, some countries are slowly lifting restrictions and others are preparing to make their first openings after months in lockdown.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Latin America has become the epicenter of the pandemic with Brazil, Peru and Chile leading the number of infected cases in the region. However, the economic crisis is leading countries to consider the possibility of gradually opening confinement measures. So, it is worth asking, what have been the opening effects in other countries? And based on this, what challenges will Latin America have to face in the coming months?
Northern Neighbors: The U.S. and Canada
The United States is the country with the highest number of infected people and the highest number of deaths from coronavirus. In early May, President Donald Trump made the decision to start loosening restrictions to combat the virus. As of that month, infection cases have started to decline gradually, and currently, of all the tests made, 5.4% are positive.
In New York City, for example, although hundreds of people are getting infected daily, deaths have been dramatically reduced. For this reason, sectors as manufacturing, agriculture and construction resumed their work in early June. However, spikes of infection have been detected in different cities where festivals, religious ceremonies have taken place, and in poultry farms, thus confirming the need to keep certain restrictions such as social distancing or the prohibition of mass gatherings.
In the case of Canada, they have chosen to allow inhabitants to form “double bubbles”, as New Zealand did. This means that two households can agree on sharing a space and not having social distancing between them, thus improving people’s mental health, and helping the care of children. After three weeks of the experiment, no increase in infections was noted.
The most affected continent: Europe
At the end of April, European governments began to allow their inhabitants to have more freedom. For example, Czechs can go now to a pub for a beer, Spanish can visit museums and parks, Italians can go to public swimming pools for swimming in summer and Greeks opened their islands to local tourists.
However, since mid-May the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned that the continent should be prepared for a second wave of infections, since between 85 and 90 percent of citizens are still exposed to COVID -19. Therefore, they recommend that people to continue to follow distancing rules and use masks.
The continent showing the future: Asia
It was the first continent to endure coronavirus, enter the lockdown and end it. They are now experiencing a second wave of infections, which comes with new challenges. First, it is common to find clusters or spikes of isolated cases in different areas, even in countries with effective first-wave strategies such as South Korea, spikes are experienced. In short, as the World Health Organization stated, “the virus is here to stay.”
Likewise, some restrictions have been re-implemented, as in the Hokkaido region, Japan, when after 15 days of loosening restrictions, the state of emergency was re-introduced, and they had to go back to lockdown. In South Korea’s capital Seoul, more than 200 schools had to close after just a few days of being open.
On the other hand, through GPS applications for smart phones, countries like South Korea managed to track down those bearing the virus to quickly isolate them. This allowed them to put local alert systems around the country and not waste time squashing the infection curve. Similarly, across Asia, governments are implementing double testing to prevent asymptomatic people from infecting those around them.
Finally, after the first wave, Asian countries continue investing in public health so that countries can be prepared for future contingencies. However, until there is a vaccine, measures will have to be adapted to the evolution of the coronavirus in the countries.
The path for Latin America
More than a million confirmed cases are registered among Peru, Chile and Brazil, while governments like Jair Bolsonaro’s in Brazil have argued that continuing with the lockdown is not sustainable for the country’s economy. So, considering that lockdown is difficult for people that live from informal economy, the WHO warned that while a gradual opening is made to move the economy, sanitary measures should not be loosen.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) also clarified that June will be a crucial month for the region, since the region has not managed to flatten the infection curve. In addition, it has been shown that asymptomatic transmission of coronavirus is possible; in fact, it is more likely that an individual may infect others two days before showing symptoms. For this reason, PAHO recommended increasing the number of tests for virus diagnoses to “identify, track, and isolate cases.”
The role that each individual plays in Latin America will be vital to defeat the coronavirus and flatten the curve in the near future. While the world is anxiously awaiting a vaccine, the only way to stop the virus in the region is through collective action and ongoing security protocols.
América Latina y el Caribe: cooperación regional ante la crisis del coronavirus
Are coronavirus cases in the US actually going down? Here’s what we know.
Coronavirus | “La situación está empeorando”: la OMS registra un récord de casos de covid-19 y centra su preocupación en América Latina
Coronavirus outbreak: Five ways Europe is easing lockdown
Coronavirus ‘second wave’: What lessons can we learn from Asia?
‘Europa debe prepararse para una segunda oleada del coronavirus’
How South America became a coronavirus epicenter
Junio, el mes crucial para América Latina contra el coronavirus, advierte la OPS
¿Qué países serán los más afectados por la crisis económica del covid-19?
Millions of kids around the world adjust to school in the coronavirus era
New Zealand says it has zero active cases of Covid-19
Temporal dynamics in viral shedding and transmissibility of COVID-19