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South America ignores Europe and reopens as virus peak nears

PTI | Riodejaneiro | Updated: 02-06-2020 08:19 IST | Created: 02-06-2020 08:19 IST
South America ignores Europe and reopens as virus peak nears

South American countries on Monday began easing COVID-19 restrictions even as the region hurtles toward its viral peak, disregarding the example set by European nations that were battered earlier by the virus. Some of Brazil's hardest hit cities, including the jungle metropolis Manaus and coastal Rio de Janeiro, are starting to allow more activity. Bolivia's government authorized reopening most of the country and the government of Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro unwound restrictions. Ecuador's airports were resuming flights and shoppers returning to some of Colombia's malls.

Rolling back measures runs counter to Europe's approach of waiting for the worst to pass before resuming activity, and South America trails much further behind on its viral curve. Even European nations that lifted restrictions earliest in their respective outbreaks – the U.K. and Russia - did so only after clearing their initial peaks. The executive director of the World Health Organization's emergencies program, Mike Ryan, expressed concern over South America's climbing contagion, telling reporters Monday that the region had become an “intense zone of transmission for this virus,” which had not yet reached its peak.

“Clearly the situation in many South American countries is far from stable. There is a rapid increase in cases and those systems are coming under increasing pressure,” he said. Data from the WHO's Pan American Health Organisation shows the region's seven-day rolling average of new cases continues rising, due in large part to Brazil, which accounts for more than half the total.

Manaus, the Amazon rainforest's largest city, was the first Brazilian metropolis whose health care system collapsed. For weeks, overwhelmed intensive-care units were unable to admit patients, deaths at home surged and a city cemetery buried bodies in mass graves. Such burials continue, yet the capital of Amazonas state on Monday began loosening its clamp on non-essential businesses. Amazonas registered 818 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the total number of cases above 40,000. There are more than 500,000 confirmed cases in Brazil, the second most in the world, and experts believe the true toll to be much higher due to insufficient testing.

Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian city with the second-most cases after Sao Paulo, on Monday announced it would begin gradually relaxing restrictions the following day. A Already a city in its metropolitan region, Sao Joao de Meriti, started allowing salons, auto mechanics, and hotels to operate on Monday. “Brazil tends to look at Europe, and the problem is that there they did one or two months of strict quarantine and are now reopening,” said Renato Mendes Coutinho, a specialist in mathematical biology at COVID-19 BR Observatory, an independent group of more than 50 Brazilian researchers. “The difference is that the lockdown they implemented and the restriction measures were much more efficient and thorough.” Ecuador was one of the first South American nations slammed, with grim scenes of people leaving corpses outside their doorsteps in Guayaquil through March and April. The nation's caseload continues to surge, yet its airport will resume international flights on June 3, according to Nicolás Romero, the airport's spokesperson, though he said arriving passengers must spend 15 days in quarantine, without specifying how such quarantine will be enforced.

The airport in capital, Quito, recorded its first flight in 80 days on Monday, and flights to Miami and Houston will take off on June 4. “It has just been one flight so far, but the important thing is the message it gives, of flying safely,” Luis Galárraga, the airport's spokesperson, told The Associated Press.

Across Ecuador's border, Colombia has shut the international airport in its capital, Bogotá, until September and locked down an entire working-class district home to 1.5 million people. But in the nation's second city, Medellin, malls cautiously began opening their doors on Monday, though checking customers' temperatures upon entry..


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