Coronavirus: What are the numbers out of Latin America?

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Bhawani Singh
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Peruvians queue up to receive government aid handoutsImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Peru has been of the countries hardest hit by coronavirus

Coronavirus cases have been rising sharply in Latin American countries, contributing to record numbers of new infections being recorded globally.

Brazil has had more than one million confirmed cases – the second highest in the world after the US.

Other countries in the region, including Mexico, Chile and Peru, are also battling major outbreaks.

So what are the main trends in Latin America?

The first confirmed case in Latin America was identified in Brazil on 26 February, although researchers have said there are indications that there were cases there as early as January.

Coronavirus has since spread to every country in the region.

More than two million cases have been recorded, and more than 100,000 people have died, according to the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is fewer cases and deaths than in Europe and the US, but testing is nowhere near as widespread and deaths may be under-reported.

Latin America’s two most populous nations, Brazil and Mexico, have seen the highest number of deaths, more than 52,000 and 23,000 respectively.

Peru has the sixth highest number of reported cases in the world, and more than 8,000 confirmed deaths.

And researchers say these countries could be significantly under-reporting deaths, with many cases going undiagnosed.

Chile is reporting thousands of new coronavirus cases each day, with more than 4,500 people dead.

Ecuador recorded one of the earliest and worst outbreaks in the region, although cases here are now stabilising – but this is not the trend in many other countries.

Peak not yet reached

Unlike in the US and most countries in Europe, many countries in Latin America are seeing their daily cases and deaths increase.

Looking at Brazil, Mexico and Peru compared with three of the worst-hit countries in Europe in terms of deaths – the UK, Italy and France – you can see daily deaths are growing in these Latin American nations as they drop elsewhere.

The head of the Pan American Health Organization, Dr Carissa Etienne has warned that coronavirus is spreading “exponentially” in many areas of the region.

The number of deaths in Brazil, Mexico and Peru is doubling roughly every three weeks.

A study by the University of Washington has warned that Brazil’s death toll could climb to 125,000 by early August.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Mexico has one of the highest numbers of deaths

Dr Etienne has said “there can be no doubt our region has become the epicentre” of the pandemic.

Latin America now consistently reports more daily cases than the US and Europe.

Experts say the peak of the epidemic in some Latin American countries is still some weeks away.

As daily cases continue to rise, there are concerns that healthcare systems could be overwhelmed, as has already been the case in Ecuador.

Pilar Mazzetti, who is leading the Peruvian government’s coronavirus response, has said: “We’re in bad shape. This is war.”

What is being done to stop the spread?

Mexico and Brazil have continued to take less severe lockdown measures than other Latin American countries.

Both have given out guidelines, but have not imposed national restrictions.

Image copyright

Image caption

President Bolsonaro still attends rallies with supporters

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly downplayed the virus, and has been ordered by a judge to wear a mask in public in the capital Brasilia, or face a fine.

Marcia Castro, a global health professor at Harvard University, says that “the response in Brazil is far from ideal, and currently there is a lack of a uniform message coming from the leadership at different levels.”

Other countries such as Argentina have imposed compulsory lockdowns.

Prof Castro says it is, along with Uruguay, among the countries in the region for now able to manage the spread.

Peru had one of the first and strictest national lockdowns in the region, but continues to see cases and deaths rise. It has extended its lockdown until the end of June.

As cases rapidly rise in Chile, the government has tightened lockdowns across the country.

Chile has one of Latin America’s highest rates of testing – around 50 tests per 1,000 people.

But testing across the region is significantly below other parts of the world.

Mexico has carried out around 3 tests per 1,000 people, compared with around 80 per 1,000 in the US.

Brazil also has a very low testing rate, and a study by the University of São Paulo Medical School estimates the number of infections could be as much as 15 times higher than the official figure.

President Bolsonaro wants to begin reopening Brazil’s borders despite increasing infections, but other Latin American governments have expressed worries that the worsening situation there could have ramifications across the region.

Graphics by Cecilia Tombesi

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