Coronavirus in Latin America: What governments are doing to stop the spread

With the coronavirus posing a tremendous risk to Latin America, here is what some governments are doing to stop the spread of the virus.


The coronavirus (or COVID-19) landed in Latin America on February 26, when Brazil confirmed its first case. According to the country’s Healthy Ministry, a 61-year old man tested positive after spending two weeks in northern Italy on a work trip. Since then, the virus has spread across the region and forced governments to take quick action to contain its spread. 

In a region with soaring poverty rates, high population density and lagging health care, the coronavirus poses a tremendous risk to Latin Americans. It will also have a significant impact on the region’s markets. According to a JPMorgan report assessing the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, the multinational bank expects GDP to contract over two percent across the region and three percent in Colombia, Brazil and Mexico. The fallout of the virus is expected to cause the biggest single-quarter decline since 2008-2009. 

Most Latin American governments have acted swiftly to contain COVID-19. Many quickly imposed strict protocols: closed borders, imposed quarantines, and called on their militaries to enforce these restrictions. But others fail to see the pandemic as a serious problem.

Here is what some Latin American countries are doing to stop the spread of COVID-19 as of March 26, 2020. 


Confirmed cases: 589

Argentina announced its first case of COVID-19 on March 3. It was also the first country in Latin America to register a coronavirus-related death four days later. 

As a first step, on March 11, the Argentine government said it would begin isolating travelers from the countries worst-affected by the coronavirus: China, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, South Korea, and the United States. The move was followed by the announcement of a Necessity and Urgency Decree signed on March 12 by President Alberto Fernández which barred flights from these countries for 30 days.

Since then, Argentina implemented a number of measures including closing down schools, closing borders to non-residents, and ordering a mandatory quarantine for all except essential workers until March 31. But as health experts warn that the number of those infected could double or triple in the weeks to come, government officials are thinking about extending the period of total quarantine. Citizens who ignore the quarantine could face jail time from six months to two years. According to the Argentine Security Ministry, there have been more than 10,000 arrests since March 20.

On March 23, Argentina’s economy and labor ministers, Martín Guzmán and Claudio Moroni, announced the creation of a family emergency income that would provide $156 for the month of April to independent or informal economy workers who have lost all forms of income as a consequence of the pandemic. The government also said it will raise the salary of medical workers by about $467, the move would affect around 750,000 Argentines. 


Confirmed cases: 2,985

The first country to confirm a case of coronavirus in Latin America, Brazil now has the highest number of cases in the region. But even as the virus continues to spread, and various members of his cabinet tested positive for the virus, President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed COVID-19 as a “little cold” and dismissed global concerns as “hysteria.” 

Bolsonaro has been at odds with his Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta since March 15, when Bolsonaro made public appearances and came in close physical contact with citizens. For his part, Mandetta has warned that the country’s health system would collapse by the end of April due to the system’s inability to care for all those affected. 

But even as Bolsonaro calls for a return to normalcy, governors and mayors across the country are imposing measures to contain the virus. On March 24, Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, went into a partial 15 day quarantine. The state of Rio de Janeiro also announced provisions that would close beaches and public pools and would cut land and air transportation to Rio for 15 days. Even gangs in Rio’s favelas have imposed curfews to stop the spread of the virus. 

The Bolsonaro administration waited until March 17 to ask Congress to declare a state of emergency, allowing the government to free up funds to fight the virus. Two days later, the country closed its land borders to foreign visitors for 15 days. On March 21, President Bolsonaro issued a presidential decree listing essential services not to be interrupted during quarantines. 

After calls for more aggressive measures by lawmakers, on March 23, Bolsonaro announced a package of measures that would support states and municipalities to fight the outbreak totaling $17.5 billion. While $3.97 billion would go to measures that have already been announced, approximately $1.59 billion will go to health funds and $397 million to social assistance, among other things. The package also includes the suspension of State debt to the federal government and the renegotiation of $1.9 billion owed by the state to public banks. 


Confirmed cases: 1,306

The Chilean government announced its first case of coronavirus on March 3. Since then, the government has closed its borders to foreigners, closed schools through May, and declared a “state of catastrophe” for 90 days that would allow President Sebástian Piñera to deploy the military to safeguard the country’s critical infrastructure and supply lines. 

President Piñera also announced his government’s economic plan to combat the virus. The plan has three main objectives: refortalize the Health system’s budget, protect family income, and protect jobs and employers. The almost $12 billion plan equals roughly 4.7 percent of Chile’s GDP.

But even with these measures, Piñera still faces mounting pressure from government officials, city mayors, and citizens to place the country under a mandatory quarantine. Fifty-six mayors sent a letter to Piñera expressing the urgent need for a quarantine. Mayors have found themselves sending security vehicles to patrol neighborhoods and urge locals to report anyone experiencing symptoms of the virus. 


Confirmed cases: 13

El Salvador has taken the most drastic measures to tackle COVID-19 in the region. Even before the country had a confirmed case, President Nayib Bukele declared an orange alert and placed the entire country under quarantine, banned foreign travel, and requested all Salvadorans returning from abroad be isolated for 30 days. On March 13, President Bukele declared a state of emergency. 

El Salvador announced its first case of the coronavirus on March 18. On the same day, the government said it had suspended deportation flights of its nationals from the United States and Mexico to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country. On March 21, President Bukele announced an extension of the national quarantine for another 30 days. 

Besides its preventative measures, the Salvadoran government has also proposed an ambitious economic plan. President Bukele announced he would be suspending utility, phone, internet, mortgage, car, and credit card payments for three months for all Salvadorans. His economic plan also includes a $300 payment to approximately 1.5 million households that lost their income because of the virus. 


Confirmed cases: 2

On March 18, Vice President Rosario Murillo, wife of President Daniel Ortega, announced Nicaragua’s first coronavirus case, a 40-year old man returning from Panama. The Ortega government has refused to close down its borders, shut down tourism, schools or restaurants. So far, the country only has two confirmed cases of COVID-19, with six others being tested for the virus. 

Since before the virus reached Nicaragua, the Ortega government had failed to properly inform the public of the pandemic—with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights criticizing the government’s lack of transparency. Even as the pandemic was spreading across the world, the government told doctors not to share any information about the virus to their patients and prohibited the use of face masks to avoid causing “mass hysteria.” To create the illusion that everything was fine, on March 14, the Ortega government organized the “Love in the time of COVID-19” march. 

While the government had maintained the posture it would not establish a “quarantine of any kind,” on March 23, Minister of Health Carolina Dávila announced that authorities would examine passengers arriving from countries with active coronavirus transmission and advise them to self quarantine for 14 days—the most drastic measure taken by the Ortega regime thus far. 


Confirmed cases: 580

On March 6, Peru recorded its first case of coronavirus. Nine days later, President Martín Vizcarra declared a state of emergency imposing a general quarantine, deploying the military to enforce new restrictions, closing its borders for 15 days, as well as prohibiting domestic travel between Peru’s provinces. To cushion the economic effects of the quarantine on citizens, the Peruvian government announced it would provide citizens who fell below the poverty line a one-time payment of about $100 to cover their expenses during the 15 day quarantine. 

In a tightening of quarantine measures, on March 19 the government announced a nationwide curfew, prohibiting movement from 8 PM to 5 AM. Without proper justification, those that don’t abide by the quarantine can face up to three years in prison. According to the Ministry of the Interior, since the curfew was set in place, there have been over 11,000 arrests. Given the lack of commitment by some, the government announced that the quarantine, which was scheduled to end on March 31, would be extended for another 15 days. 

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