Central America Coronavirus Update March 23

A daily update on Coronavirus in Central America. We’ll sift through the main talking points out there so you don’t have to.

Today reality hit for Belize, as it confirmed its first case of the coronavirus in a 38-year-old Belizean woman in the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow said the woman had returned home to Belize from Los Angeles, California on Thursday, March 19. Since arriving back, she felt unwell. The woman is in self-isolation at this point and not requiring hospitalization.

In the meantime, the island of Ambergris Caye, a major tourist hotspot in Belize – probably the most popular part of the country for tourists – is in lockdown.

The entire island is under quarantine, with no-one allowed on or off, and everyone ordered to self-isolate at home. Gatherings or over ten people are prohibited on both public and private property. Anyone who disobeys these rules is liable to a year’s imprisonment.

There was a mini-rush on earlier today as people tried to get onto the last water taxis and flights off the island.

Guatemala has one new case of coronavirus, bringing its total amount to 20. The country remains in full lockdown.

US State Department-chartered aircraft began arriving to evacuate stranded American citizens and the British Embassy announced that it arranging bus transfers for stranded Brits from various points around Guatemala to Guatemala City and then onward to the Mexican border, where they can cross over and arrange travel back home. At this point, Mexican international airports are operational.

Worrying signs of civil strife seem to be appearing in Honduras as authorities clamp down on people defying the quarantines and curfews to work.

Market workers – people in the cash economy – seem to be bearing the brunt of things as police wade in with tear gas to break up and arrest those they see breaking the curfew.

The problem is that without any government help, people have to work. If they don’t work they don’t eat. So what has happened to the funds the government promised to tackle COVID-19? That appears to be the big question.

Honduras now has 30 cases of coronavirus.

El Salvador, the country I admit I was laughing at two weeks ago over their coronavirus response, could now be the Central American country handling this the best of all.

There are still three cases in El Salvador, with no new infections reported today. All three patients are in stable condition.

From the best-led Central American country to the worst, Nicaragua is still on two officially confirmed cases of coronavirus.                                                                                                                                                      

The country is still in official denial with absolutely zero measures or preparations made…

… which brings me to Costa Rica.

As a direct result of the incompetence and inaction of the Ortega regime in Nicaragua, President Carlos Alvarado today announced some of the most stringent immigration restrictions that Costa Rica has ever seen.

In a list of new measures, Alvarado decreed that any foreign legal resident of Costa Rica who left the country would forfeit their legal status as a resident.                                                                                      

Breaking that down, it means that if you have a DIMEX (the legal residency card for foreigners in Costa Rica) and left Costa Rica, then your residency would no longer be valid upon your return and you would be classed as a tourist.

Although unsaid by the government, it’s clear to me that this measure is a direct result of ineptitude in Nicaragua.                                                                                                                                                                      

There are hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica with legal residency. Many of them leave to go home for the Easter Holidays which are coming up soon. Given the fact that Nicaragua is planning for a big Easter vacation party, coronavirus be damned, Costa Rica does not want those Nicaraguans to leave Costa Rica’s state of self-isolation and then come back infected from zero isolation in their home country. It’s understandable.

This is not the fault of those Nicaraguan residents living legally and in good faith in Costa Rica. It’s entirely the fault of the government in Managua who are doing grave disfavor to their own citizens in Costa Rica.

Still, it’s a bitter pill for anyone to swallow, but probably a good idea in the short-term.

Other measures introduced today in Costa Rica were the mandatory closing of all beaches, and a ban on driving between 10:00 PM and 5:00 AM. Both measures are designed to keep people at home. Churches and other religious centers are also no longer open.

Costa Rica now has 158 cases of coronavirus, an increase of 24 from yesterday.

Panama’s number went up by another 32 today, to a total of 345, meaning that it’s still by far the worst-hit country in the region.

So far, six people have died in Panama, including a 13-year-old girl today. It’s unclear if the girl had any underlying medical conditions, although I’m sure we will find out in the next day or two. Our deepest sympathies go out to her family and the family of everyone who’s so far died from Coronavirus in Central America.

James Dyde is the editor of centralamerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.