Peru hit hard by second wave of COVID-19

Peru is reporting more than 7,000 new cases everyday and has the highest per capita death toll in the Latin American and Caribbean region

August 12, 2020 by Tanya Wadhwa
Peru's new PM Walter Martos announced measures to combat the second wave of COVID-19 in the country. Photo: Prensa Latina

Peru has been hit by a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the country began to ease lockdown restrictions at the beginning of July, in the same month it experienced a slight increase in the number of coronavirus cases. In the first ten days of August, the daily new cases have spiked sharply. With a population of 33 million, Peru is reporting more than 7,000 new cases everyday. Following the concerning surge in infections, President Martín Vizcarra has reimposed a state of emergency with general quarantine measures and curfews until the end of this month.

Currently, Peru is the third worst-hit country in the Latin American and Caribbean region and the seventh most affected nation in the world by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of August 11, the country has registered 483,133 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 21,276 deaths from the disease.

According to Johns Hopkins University, Peru has the highest per capita death toll in the region and the fifth highest in the world with 665.1 deaths per one million population. Meanwhile, the US is number ten in the list with 499.6 deaths per one million population and Brazil is number eleven with 485.8 deaths per one million population.

Many fear that the country’s coronavirus death toll could be much higher. More than 27,000 deaths were not included in the country’s official toll because the victims did not undergo a coronavirus test before dying. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO), is investigating to verify whether the deaths are coronavirus related.

Peru’s healthcare system is struggling hard to cope up with the influx. About 90% of the ICU beds in private and public hospitals across the country have been occupied. The country is facing a severe shortage of oxygen cylinders and artificial respirators or ventilators.

The underlying reason for the present crisis is the decades of structural under-funding of the public healthcare system and promotion of pro-private sector policies by the right-wing governments in the country, especially the neoliberal measures introduced by Dictator Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000).

Vizcarra’s current right-wing government also failed to protect its vulnerable population. Vizcarra focused on enforcing social distancing and isolation measures and paid less attention to the actual needs of its poor and marginalized communities.

Peru was one of the first Latin American countries to take timely measures and implement a strict nationwide lockdown to curb the spread. However, despite that, the government failed to contain the spread.

Over 70% of Peru’s workforce is employed in the informal sector and depend on their daily incomes to survive. The unemployment caused by the pandemic, the threat of hunger and the lack of access to basic goods and services such as water, refrigerators, bank accounts, forced millions of Peruvians to venture out and risk infection.

According to a recent report from Peru’s ombudsman’s office, Defensoría del Pueblo, in the month of June and July, 162 social protests were held across the national territory to demand economic aid and public healthcare support. 16 of these were carried out by mine workers, who have been forced to bear the burden of the crisis affecting the country, to demand protection and support for them and families.

The capital, Lima, continues to be the most affected department. But, the country’s Andean and Amazon regions, where the indigenous and peasant communities reside and the mining operations run, are emerging as new hotspots of the novel coronavirus, among other regions.

Peruvian doctors, medics and other healthcare professionals also staged various protests in different parts of the country denouncing the lack of PPE kits and demanding the payment of their salaries.

Feminist movements and women’s organizations took to digital platforms to denounce the spike in gender-based violence and demand greater protection measures. Hundreds of women and girls have gone missing in the country since the beginning of lockdown on March 16. According to the Ministry of Women, 1,200 women and girls had been reported missing between March 16 and July 31.

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