Peru made a dramatic decision in its fight against COVID-19: make the 68-day-old scenario of social isolation more flexible and open a “free fall” economy while the disease is in full swing, without any sign of stopping its expansion.
President Martín Vizcarra announced this Friday that starting Monday, May 25, electronic commerce, the provision of professional and technical services, laundries and hairdressers and even the return of professional football, among other sectors, will be enabled.
Technically, isolation is still in force and is mandatory, although economic necessity and citizen satiety have forced to relax some standards -which were already little respected- despite the contagion curve has never stopped growing and draws a complex dilemma and tragic: either the economic catastrophe or the possibility of an uncontrolled spread of the virus.
With more than 100,000 patients and an average of approximately 4,000 new cases daily in recent days, Peru is already one of the countries in the world with the most infections.
The figure rises and rises, without ever having a stratospheric peak but without ceasing the persistent upward rhythm despite Vizcarra’s words from a week ago in which he stated that the country was already on a “plateau”.
On the other hand, the economic situation of Peruvian families, particularly those in the most humble sectors and the vast majority of the population that works in the informal sector, can no longer endure after more than two months of paralysis.
Despite copious and extensive public aid, and the economic relaunch programs promised by the Ministry of Economy, resources are not enough for more, families and companies are not sustained and the pocket of the State cannot give much more.
THE ORIGINAL PLAN
The Peruvian situation is atypical, since the disease has spread despite one of the strictest orders of social isolation and mandatory confinement, at least on paper, worldwide.
It has been forbidden for 68 days to go outside except to buy food or medicine, there is a night curfew, to date only essential economic activities were allowed and both local and international air and land traffic is closed.
The strategy seemed adequate: confinement started with only 70 confirmed cases; Immediate aid was granted to the poorest to remain at home, and a race was started both to multiply screening tests and to expand the country’s poor hospital capacities.
It is clear that the quarantine has not been as effective as it should have been, a fact that has become evident even with the cooling of the optimistic messages launched since the beginning of the detention by the Government.
Several surveys indicate overwhelming support for government-imposed restrictions, but for one reason or another non-compliance with isolation has been widespread in large areas, and there has been a concatenation of factors that appear to have brought down the initial strategy.
The poorest population and if resources could not be maintained in their precarious homes and, despite public aid, they have been forced to go out and find life.
Thousands of other citizens of large cities, who became unemployed overnight, returned to their home regions, often on foot.
Elsewhere, cultural patterns and a historical disregard for public powers helped prevent the measures from being respected.
COVID OF “YAPA”
In this context, the food markets became and operated for weeks as spaces where the population continued to flock and where the disease found a focus to multiply.
This is how what Vizcarra denounced in one of his speeches in which he urged people to maintain caution became true: people were going to buy and the virus was taking “yapa” (tip).
It was only a week ago that a market intervention began, after an increase in the number of tests among shopkeepers revealed the alarming proportion of them who carried the disease.
Only in the Wholesale Fruit Market of Lima, 80% of merchants tested positive for COVID-19.
The collection of financial aid also unleashed crowds, with tens of thousands of people, particularly older adults living in great poverty, who went to bank offices to receive their money or request information with little or no protection measures.
On the positive side, the restrictions did help Peru to gain time and strengthen its healthcare system in a race against the clock in which it has been seen how the country multiplied its hospital beds and Intensive Care Units (ICUs), which went from less than a hundred to more than a thousand in these weeks.
This last-minute effort also highlights another of Peru’s problems in this crisis: the historic neglect of public health that now reveals itself as an added difficulty to overcome.
Except in jungle areas, where the virus exploded like a bomb and collapsed hospitals, the system remained ahead of the disease, at least on paper.
However, the impact of COVID-19 is being much greater than what is reported by official data.
A “Financial Times” report points out that Peru, which officially reports just over 3,000 deaths from the virus, is facing “the world’s most severe outbreak” of the disease, with some 8,000 deaths above the “normal” average that they have not been counted as victims of the disease.
That assessment coincides with that of doctors and other first-hand witnesses to the disease’s outbreak, who report hundreds of cases of deaths that were undiagnosed but in their opinion undoubtedly linked to COVID-19.