Thursday, April 23, 2020

Haiti bracing for Covid-19, reopening factories (April 23, 2020)

Haiti's brush with coronavirus has come slower than other countries in the region, in part hindered by protests that have shut down the country's tourism and interaction with foreigners. But laid-off workers returning from the Dominican Republic, which is far more affected by the novel coronavirus, mean it is only a matter of time before Haiti's crumbling health system faces off against Covid-19, warn experts. (New York Times)

Experts predict tens of thousands of patients in Haiti -- and an effective plan to contain and treat them would be prohibitively expensive, reports the New York Times.

The woefully underprepared nature of Haiti's healthcare system is exemplified by the extremely low number of working ventilators, reported the BBC earlier this week. According to one report there are no more than 60 ventilators for 11 million people, and not all of those are functioning. (See Monday's briefs.) Some say the number is closer to 20 ventilators. Haitians regularly die of easily treatable ailments like diarrhea, and public hospitals often have to charge patients for basics like syringes and gloves, reports the New York Times.

Already, cramped living conditions and poverty make Haitians more susceptible to health problems. Haiti has the highest incidence of tuberculosis in the Americas and high rates of other chronic health problems such as diabetes and hypertension, reports the New Humanitarian.

The government implemented shut-down measures a month ago, on March 19, but has had difficulty enforcing them, in the midst of an already fragile economy suffering from extremely high inflation. The economics are stark: more than 60 percent of the country's population lives beneath the poverty line, ill able to follow stay-at-home measures. This week factories reopened at partial capacity -- using about 30 percent of their staff reports the AFP

Deportees from the U.S. are another source of infection -- and earlier this week Haiti’s prime minister, Joseph Jouthe, said another flight carrying more than 100 Haitian deportees was expected. (Reuters)

Curiously, in the midst of all this, it's easier for Haitian nationals to get back to Haiti as deportees than as returning tourists, reports the Miami Herald. Non-deportees seeking to return must overcome expensive hurdles such as obtaining a coronavirus test in the U.S., testing negative, and then quarantining in one of two government approved Port-au-Prince hotels for two weeks.

More Haiti
  • Haitian authorities are conducting a criminal investigation into a February fire at an orphanage operated by a U.S.-based church near Port-au-Prince, where 13 children and two adults died, reports the Associated Press. (See Feb. 17's briefs.)
  • The two children's homes the U.S. based Church of Bible Understanding operates in Haiti have faced years of infractions and failed two state inspections, notes the Associated Press in a separate piece. Authorities believe the fire was caused by using candles for light in the evening rather than a functioning generator or battery.
News Briefs

  • A Reuters report about secret negotiations between Venezuela's government and opposition was swiftly denied by opposition leader Juan Guaidó yesterday. (See yesterday's briefs .) "However, insiders suggest that backchannel contact between the Guaidó and Maduro governments is frequent and that Norwegian diplomats have never stopped their contact with each side, despite formal talks being suspended in September," according to the Venezuela Weekly. "Given the way the COVID-19 pandemic is changing conditions, contacts solidifying into talks is always a possibility," write David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas.
  • The global oil price crash this week will be particularly catastrophic for Venezuela. (See yesterday's briefs) The loss in income could leave the government without enough cashflow to cover imports of food, gasoline and medicines, notes the Venezuela Weekly.
  • Covid-19 crises in South American countries have made life even more difficult for Venezuelan migrants, many of whom have lost precarious and work and housing options. It is not fully clear how many migrants have returned to Venezuela over the past month or so, but the United Nations estimates at least 97 quarantine centers with a capacity of 8,615 people. These lack basic hygiene and infrastructure, a situation ripe for cruel and degrading treatment of returnees, write Carolina Jiménez Sandoval and Rafael Uzcátegui in the Post Opinión.
  • Ventilator shortages are a world-wide issue now. Engineers in the region are racing to build the machines locally, often retooling automotive and appliance plants, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Thefts of tests, ventilators and personal protective equipment have shot up across Latin America, reports InSight Crime.
  • Mexico is bracing for a major surge in Covid-19 infections and deaths, reports the Los Angeles Times, and experts are concerned over how the national health care system will cope.
  • Nonetheless, the U.S. is pressuring Mexico to reopen border assembly plants that play a key role in the U.S. supply chain, reports the Associated Press. U.S. officials say the factories play a vital economic role, but workers are increasingly concerned that maquiladoras have become breeding grounds for coronavirus infection.
  • Coronavirus is affecting national economies around the world, but in Mexico "it’s taking specific aim at the pillars of the Mexican economy: trade, oil, remittances and tourism," reports the Washington Post.
  • Attacks against healthcare workers have grown in Mexico, where some people believe they are vectors of Covid-19 contagion. The violence is enough that many have started traveling to work out of uniform, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexican lawmakers approved an amnesty for non-violent inmates in the country's prison system, a move praised as "humanitarian" by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The measure will allow for the release of low-level offenders, including those convicted of robbery and small-scale drug possession, as well women jailed on abortion charges. It will also apply to indigenous convicts who did not receive an adequate defense due to language barriers and those who were coerced to work with criminal gangs. (Reuters)
  • Insufficient testing is an ongoing issue in the region, but is particularly marked in Brazil, where experts believe the scope of infection is vastly undercounted, reports the Washington Post. According to government statistics, nearly 37,300 people have been hospitalized this year with respiratory ailments — four times the number at this point last year — but only half have received test results. Death rates for pneumonia and respiratory failure -- far above the statistical norm in certain affected areas -- also point to the prevalence of Covid-19. 
  • There is a method to President Jair Bolsonaro's madness -- the stubborn denial of the coronavirus threat -- writes Andy Robinson in The Nation. His stance, contrary to that of many government officials, is aimed at avoiding blame for the economic crisis unfolding in the country.
  • Peru's hospitals are struggling with increased Covid-19 infections: confirmed figures this week doubled those of the previous week. The health ministry says it expects patient numbers to peak within days or in the following week. And medical workers are protesting lack of protective equipment. Storage for cadavers and crematorium capacity are already reaching their limits, reports Reuters.
  • Cuba's health system is better poised than most in the region to deal with coronavirus, but the pandemic's economic impact will be harder for the island's government, reports the Economist.
  • Hungry protesters are increasingly defying Colombia's lockdown, demanding assistance from the government. Red cloths hung on windows of houses where people have insufficient food are features in all the homes of certain neighborhoods, reports France 24.
  • Two deputy health ministers in Guatemala were fired this week amid revelations of an alleged corruption ring inside the ministry, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Twenty-nine Nobel laureates have condemned alleged “judicial harassment” by Chevron and urged the release of a US environmental lawyer who was put under house arrest for pursuing oil-spill compensation claims on behalf of indigenous tribes in the Amazon, reports the Guardian.
  • Bolivian social organizations accused the country's interim government of human rights violations in its management of the coronavirus outbreak, reports Telesur. (See last Thursday's briefs as well.)
  • Chile was supposed to hold a referendum this weekend -- polls predicted citizens would support drafting a new constitution, which has turned into a major protest demand since last October. The date has instead been moved to October, 2020, as a result of the coronavirus epidemic, which means campaigning will take place in a moment of economic weakness and reconstruction, writes Rocío Montes in the Post Opinión.
  • Argentina did not foreign debt payments due yesterday, starting a 30 day countdown to default (again), reports the Wall Street Journal. The move was expected, as the country offered creditors a restructuring proposal last week and aims to reach an agreement with bondholders, despite their initial rejection of the plan.
  • Fallout from a default would be "grisly" warns the Economist which says that the debt and the pandemic present the Fernández administration with a make-or-break moment.
  • Uruguay started reopening rural primary schools, though attendance will not be mandatory, reports the BBC.

I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... And in these times of coronavirus, when we're all feeling a little isolated, feel especially free to reach out and share.


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