Peru remains in the grips of what may be the most intense COVID-19 outbreak in the world. Officially, there have been more than 28,000 deaths, in a population of 31m. But, reports The Daily Telegraph, when all fatalities are taken into account, including those without a formal coronavirus diagnosis, the Andean nation now has the worldʼs highest rate of “excess” deaths compared to historical averages.
Peru also just hit 600,000 cases, a grim tally that puts it behind only five other countries, all with significantly larger populations. Polls show that nearly seven in 10 residents personally know someone who has died from COVID-19. Hospitals have been overrun, prompting many desperate families to brave the ghoulish speculation of a booming black-market in oxygen as they nurse gasping relatives at home. Yet normality is a relative concept. These days just being allowed out of the house for “non-essential” activities, including exercise by the ocean, is a freedom for Peruvians to cherish.
The report says in mid-March, President Martín Vizcarra imposed one of the strictest lockdowns anywhere in the free world. For the first 15 weeks of the pandemic, most residents were only allowed to leave home to either buy food or receive medical attention. Private vehicles were banned from circulating and masks were made obligatory in public. As if that was not enough, there was also an 8pm curfew. The authorities meant it too. One viral video showed a man being arrested almost on his front door as he put out the rubbish at night.
But, The Telegraph reports, that lockdown came with a huge price tag. Peruʼs $229bn economy contracted by 30% in the second quarter. In a country where millions still go hungry, many, including the government, came to view the medicine as worse than the disease. Gradually, since the end of June, some restrictions have been eased, although social gatherings remain prohibited. And the rate of new infections has shot back up again.
The reason is, in part, poverty. Just in Lima, the capital, nearly 1m people lack running water. Many extended families also live crammed into small homes, making social distancing impossible even for those who have tested positive. But it is also rooted in the routine flouting of the law here. Peruvians often debate the source of this unruliness, frequently blaming a lack of “values” or the cultural legacy of Spanish colonialism. What is definitely the case is that official corruption and ineptitude, and arbitrary red tape, hardly encourage citizens to respect authority.
On 22 August, 13 people were crushed to death in a stampede when police swooped on an unlicensed disco in Limaʼs gritty Los Olivos district. Twenty-three people were also arrested, of whom 15 tested positive for coronavirus. Supposedly a “clandestine” party, the sound system could be heard a block away. Although usually less flagrant, socialising is now thought to be the countryʼs principal source of new contagions, especially family meet-ups, often over a traditional Sunday meal.
The report says in a bid to address that Peruvian idiosyncrasy, Vizcarra earlier this month controversially re-imposed a total lockdown on the Sabbath. On the first Sunday, 22,000 police and military patrolled the capital, arresting more than 1,000 people for simply being in the street.
Needless to say, the coronavirus has torpedoed Peruʼs booming tourism industry, including its acclaimed culinary sector. One of Vizcarraʼs first measures back in March was to close the borders. The government does not expect to reopen them until the end of the year, and when it does, who will come to one of the pandemicʼs epicentres, at least until the disease is well and truly behind us?
Full report in The Daily Telegraph