The Latin American continent is in a great danger as the coronavirus pandemic spreads, RISS expert Igor Pshenichnikov points out. Most Latin American countries had been regarding the novel coronavirus disease as an unlikely and faraway problem — until the first case was diagnosed in Brazil in late February. Since then, the virus has spread dramatically across the region. The largest number of confirmed cases was diagnosed in Brazil, Ecuador, and Chile. Experts are predicting serious economic and epidemiological problems for Latin America.
Majority of Latin Americans live in a typical densely populated urban areas where the virus is spreading rapidly. Today, about 490 million people in Latin America are without adequate sanitation. They are all at risk. Such a region with a high poverty, where millions of people live in small and overcrowded areas without proper sanitation and medical care, is an ideal breeding ground for the virus, RISS expert underscores.
But the presidents of Brazil and Mexico, where approximately a half of the continent’s population is concentrated − Jair Bolsonaro and his counterpart Andrés Manuel López Obrador − have taken a very cavalier attitude to the crisis. They mocked urges to shut down businesses and drastically reduce public transportation, calling such measures far more destructive to people's well-being than the coronavirus itself. Bolsonaro has repeatedly stated that the threat from the virus is greatly exaggerated, and the whole situation is just mass-hysteria incited by the media and his political rivals to weaken his authority. Pshenichnikov recalled that no serious measures had been taken in Brazil to combat the epidemic ramp up at the federal level so far.
While Brazil and Mexico are coronavirus holdouts, other Latin American countries are closing their borders and declaring a state of emergency. The Chilean leadership has agreed to postpone a referendum on replacing the country’s Pinochet-era constitution this spring. All Latin Americans understand that the continent is facing a serious problem now, which is not only the COVID-19 pandemic itself, but the inability of health care system to effectively contain the outbreak, the analyst says.
Many Latin American countries are in a deep and chronic economic crisis, and they are very vulnerable to economic collapse now. Under quarantine, when borders are closed and international transport is limited, a lot of businesses across the continent have already shut down. Economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean was just 0.1 % last year, driven by low commodity prices and a wave of social upheaval that rocked Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. It appears that the economic situation in Latin America will only deteriorate due to the pandemic, RISS expert believes.
Some experts confidently predict a social outburst in the Latin American countries that are being constantly exposed to various political and economic shocks. In a situation like this, government may lose people’s credibility and things can break down really fast. Latin America may face an unmanageable scenario that could lead to social havoc. According to Pshenichnikov, the coronavirus will cause new crises for health care system, economy, and social structure in Latin America.