Central America Coronavirus Update March 22

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

It seems inexplicable at this point, but tiny Belize is now the only country in the Americas – not just Central America – without any recorded cases of coronavirus yet.                                                                                    

Let’s hope this state of affairs continues although more than likely it’s just a matter of time.

At this time Belize’s borders with neighboring Mexico and Guatemala remain closed, as well as the airport. Belizean citizens and legal residents are allowed to enter as long as they quarantine for 14 days once they arrive. Guatemalan citizens are also allowed to leave Belize to go home through the country’s western border.

Another interesting snippet of info coming out of Belize concerns the difference between local communities and the central government. Some communities have reportedly banned entry or imposed curfews on any visitors coming in. Today the government reminded these communities that only they had the power to do this.

Talking of curfews, Guatemala announced an eight-day curfew throughout the country, from 4:00 PM to 4:00 AM in an effort to flatten their curve.

Guatemala currently has 19 confirmed cases of coronavirus and one death. Stores are open, but given the new curfew, they’ll close at 4:00 PM each day with the exception of pharmacies and basic services. The consumption of alcohol is also banned after 5:00 PM although it’s hard to see how that would be enforceable in someone’s home. The borders are tight shut, including the airport, and there’s no public transportation.

During this total shutdown of Guatemala, heartwarming videos are coming out of citizens in Guatemala City cheering each other from their apartments in scenes like we’ve been seeing over in Europe in recent days.

Another affirmation that at the end of the day, most people are good. At least that’s my take.

Honduras has now confirmed 27 cases of coronavirus with no fatalities as yet.

Like elsewhere in the region, all borders are closed and there’s no public transport. The government announced a temporary suspension of constitutional rights, something that has caused concern both inside and outside the country.

Since confirming its first case on March 18th, El Salvador now has three.

El Salvador was the first country to take concrete action against coronavirus in Central America, closing borders and putting the country into quarantine as far back as March 11. Yesterday, that quarantine became a total lockdown for 30-days.

Anyone violating the lockdown is subject to arrest and transportation to a confinement center for the duration of the quarantine. One person per household can leave to buy food, and key workers can continue with their jobs.

I’m not sure how to write about the situation in Nicaragua, the basket-case of Central America, with a straight face.

Admittedly, my personal feelings about coronavirus are generally more optimistic in the long-term than other people. Especially in this part of the world. But I’m no outright denialist like the Ortegas are. I believe in social isolation, flattening the curve, and trying to distance this thing as much as possible from the most vulnerable. I don’t think I’ve put a pair of pants on in a week.

Unlike the Ortega regime who appear to be all out pretending that this thing isn’t a thing. Schools are open, borders are open, it’s all good. The country is gearing up for the Easter vacations without a care in the world, with family fun lined up for everyone.

Incredible.

In the meantime, Nicaragua has two confirmed cases of coronavirus, although like everywhere else, there’s probably much more than that. One thing’s for sure, though. The Ortegas will either come out of this thing looking like geniuses or looking totally incompetent.

I think I know which one it’ll be.

Costa Rica saw a brief respite from the near-vertical upward trend of new cases we’ve been seeing this past week or so when Saturday confirmed a much smaller-than-expected four new cases of coronavirus.

Talks of flattening the curve and early efforts at social distancing success echoed around on Saturday, only to be muted Sunday when 17 new cases were confirmed, bringing the total number to 134 (with two deaths), Central America’s second-highest amount after Panama.                                                                    

Still, the daily graph in the Tico Times looks a little bit more like a steep staircase now rather than a rock climb. So something might well be working, although it’s obviously very early days.

We can only hope and keep on doing what we’re doing – meaning staying in.

Also in Costa Rica, a campaign got underway to try and save the tourist industry and the ten percent of the Costa Rican workforce employed by it.                                                                                                                      

The idea is for everyone to come together and try to promote the idea of postponing your Costa Rican vacation rather than canceling outright. This might seem trivial to some in light of the other aspects of coronavirus, but you can’t overestimate the importance of tourism to Costa Rica’s economy.

 

Don’t cancel, postpone 🇨🇷⁦ pic.twitter.com/Sg5ZIbpdJW

— Carlos Alvarado Quesada (@CarlosAlvQ) March 22, 2020

Panama is suffering more than any other country in the region right now with a jump of 68 new coronavirus cases on Sunday to bring the total to 313.

Of that 313, over 80% of the patients are at home, without the need for hospital treatment, and seven are in a serious condition. As of Sunday evening, three people have died with a suspected fourth death being looked at.

After Panama closed its main international airport earlier in the week, national carrier Copa Airlines also announced they’d be ceasing all operations until April 21. This is the first Latin American airline to ground its entire fleet over this crisis, and yet another blow to the regional travel industry.

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