By Jacqueline Charles, Jimena Tavel, Nora Gámez Torres, Syra Ortiz-Blanes, and
Six months after the World Health Organization was alerted about cases of ‘pneumonia of unknown cause’ circulating in Wuhan, China, the novel coronavirus continues to spread through the Americas.
The region is reporting 100,000 cases of COVID-19 a day and seeing new patterns emerge from the pandemic that has infected 5.9 million people and has killed almost 267,000, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, Dr. Carissa F. Etienne said.
“Two months ago, the U.S. accounted for 75 percent of the COVID-19 cases in our region. This past week, the U.S. reported just under half of cases in the region, while Latin America and the Caribbean registered more than 50 percent of cases, and Brazil alone reported around a quarter of those,” she said.
“Despite early warnings and swift preparations, no one could have predicted that our world would change so dramatically in just half a year.”
Etienne said COVID-19, which is caused by the coronavirus, is “a pandemic of staggering proportions,” and governments and health professionals “have no option but to continue to put all our energy into controlling it.”
“We should all remain alert, but especially in places that have seen a recent acceleration of cases, as we’re seeing in several U.S. states, most of Central America, and most countries in South America,” she added.
Etienne noted that by late January, all but two of PAHO’s member nations had significantly limited international travel. By early March, all but one had imposed movement restrictions to control the virus, with countries like El Salvador doing so even before they registered their first coronavirus case.
But while the effort was instrumental in keeping cases low early in the pandemic, people and governments are beginning to grow restless and the economic toll of the pandemic is leading countries to reopen even while cases continue to rise.
“Leaders across our region must let evidence guide their actions, focusing on what works and uniting their people around it,” Etienne said. “They have a responsibility to act transparently and proactively as they mobilize institutions in each country to respond.
“The past six months have shaken our world. The next six months will not be easier, and we cannot let our guard down,” she said.
Here is a snapshot of some of the steps that Latin America and Caribbean countries continue to take to fight the pandemic as of July 7:
Anguilla: There are currently no active cases, and all three recorded cases have recovered. All returning residents must undergo mandatory testing for COVID-19 upon arrival and 14 days quarantine at a government-approved location. The borders remain closed.
As of June 1, all prohibitions on meetings of more than 25 persons at public and private gatherings, groups or activities were lifted. The Public Health (Temporary Restrictions on Public Gatherings) Regulations, 2020 expired on May 31 and was not extended. The island has gone more than two months since its last confirmed COVID-19 case.
On June 27, a five-member Cuban Medical Brigade arrived to assist the Health Authority of Anguilla over the next six months as the health team continues to work to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and provide assistance in other areas as necessary.
On May 30, the government extended the closure of all ports until June 30.
As of April 22, certain restrictions were relaxed by the government after extending its March 27 measures until May 12. Among the relaxed restrictions: government offices resumed day-to-day functioning; childcare facilities reopened and some non-essential business were allowed to resume. The island has announced a phased return to fishing beginning April 30th under certain conditions.
The British overseas territory became the final nation in the Americas on March 26 to confirm the coronavirus. The next day the government implemented a two-week restriction on the movement of people and public gatherings that was extended until April 21. Restrictions remain but with the aforementioned relaxed measures.
All seaports and airports, which were closed on March 20 for 14 days, remain closed. The Ministry of Health & Social Development has also launched a new platform, www.beatcovid19.ai, to keep everyone updated on its response. A day prior to Anguilla’s March 26 COVID-19 confirmation of two positive cases, the British Virgin Islands and St. Kitts and Nevis separately confirmed positive cases of the virus. Previously, the government required all persons arriving in Anguilla who had traveled outside of the Caribbean region to be quarantined for 14 days on arrival. All nonessential travel for public officials was suspended. The government also had banned direct flights from Europe, including the United Kingdom; cruise ships with passengers who recently had visited Europe; and a 45-day ban on public and private large gatherings that are likely to involve visitors from overseas.
Antigua and Barbuda: V.C. Bird International Airport opened to commercial flights on June 1. The country recently announced changes in its COVID-19 testing protocol for visitorsafter 39 of them tested positive and health officials informed infected tourists they needed to be placed under a 14-day mandatory quarantine. Some visitors threatened to sue and immediately booked return flights back to the United States.
All arriving passengers by air, including those transiting, must have a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR (real time polymerase chain reaction) taken within seven days of their flight. The government previously said 48 hours but has since amended it. Passengers must complete a health declaration form and will be subjected to screening and temperature checks by Port Health Authorities upon arrival in Antigua and Barbuda. Visitors may be required to undergo testing for COVID-19 on arrival or at the hotel or place of lodging as determined by the health authorities. Passengers arriving by sea are subject to quarantine according to guidelines issued by Port Health.
On June 25, Antigua and Barbuda had 26 confirmed cases and three deaths. As of July 7, the number of confirmed cases had increased to 70 with still three deaths.
A mandatory 24-hour curfew that went into effect April 23 until 12:01 a.m. May 15, has ended. A daily curfew window from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. has been authorized by the State of Emergency. Curfew hours have been amended to 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Beaches reopened on weekends on May 16 and visits are allowed from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.; tennis and swimming commenced on May 18.
During curfew private vehicles are limited to two per person, and the government has launched an economic recovery commission. On April 19, Antigua announced the cancellation of this year’s Carnival 2020, July 23 to Aug. 4. The country confirmed its first COVID-19 case on March 13.
A mandatory seven-day, 24-hour curfewfirst went into effect on April 2 until April 9 and was extended at 6 a.m. April 16 until April 22. On March 30, the government reduced the number of people allowed at funerals from 25 to 10. On March 28, the government banned all yachts, declared a state of emergency until April 11 and imposed an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for two weeks. The government previously announced a 30-day ban on all parties, festivals and similar social gatherings. Foreign nationals who have traveled to and from China, Italy, Iran, Japan, Korea and Singapore the past 28 days are not being allowed in. Citizens of Antigua and Barbuda as well as resident diplomats will be allowed entry.
Argentina: Cases and deaths continue to climb. An additional 27,990 cases have been reported over the past 12 days for a tally of 80,447 confirmed cases and 1,602 deaths as of July 7.
The government has announced the extension of the national quarantine through at least July 17; the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area will see a further tightening of restrictions. Limited exemptions apply to obtain food, medical attention, and for ticketed passengers going to an international airport to return to their country. Masks or other face coverings are mandatory in public spaces, including public transportation and passenger vehicles.
Late last month, health Secretary Carla Vizzotti noted that in one week the number of people hospitalized in intensive care with a diagnosis of COVID-19 nationwide had increased by 29 percent and called for a redoubling of efforts on social distancing and other measures. Argentina has performed 318,721 PCR tests and the average positive percentage is 19.8 percent, the government reported.
The government previously extended the national quarantine that began on March 20 through June 28, with greater restrictions in the greater Buenos Aires area. The previous deadline was June 7. On March 15, the country closed its borders to all non-resident foreigners.
The government has announced the suspension of all ticket sales for commercial flights scheduled to depart before September 1. Argentina has previously extended the national quarantine through May 24 but some businesses in Buenos Aires and other parts of the country were allowed to reopen on May 12. Cafes and restaurants in the capital also started taking orders for delivery.
As the country slowly reopens, residents are still ordered to stay home and children are only allowed to be out during the weekends. Limited quarantine exemptions include movement to obtain food and medical care and travel to the international airport.
Aruba: After a long stretch with no reported active cases, the Aruba government confirmed the first two of four active cases on June 29. As of July 7, the country had four active cases for a total of 105 positive COVID-19 cases in Aruba and three deaths.
The country officially reopened its borders on Monday, June 15 and began welcoming inbound travel for visitors from Bonaire and Curaçao. It also started welcoming visitors from Canada, Europe and the Caribbean, with the exception of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, on July 1. Travelers from the U.S. will be allowed as of July 10.
However, visitors from Florida and other states with a high incidence of COVID-19 cases will only be allowed entry if they provide proof of a negative test result prior to traveling to Aruba and will not have the option of taking a test in Aruba. (Jamaica recently mandated the same after changing its policy). The proof for Aruba will need to be submitted via the ED Card website. Read additional information on the official notification of this new condition for entry sent by the Civil Aviation Department of Aruba to all aircraft operators.
Travelers from states without a high incidence of COVID-19 must submit a self health declaration form 72 hours prior to travel. Travelers are encouraged to take a COVID-19 PCR test before traveling and to upload the test results to the new digital platform. Alternatively visitors (except children under 12) will need to pre-pay for a mandatory test upon arrival in Aruba and will be quarantined for at least 24-hours while awaiting test results. Anyone testing positive will be quarantine for 14 days along with their traveling companion. Visitors also must have COVID-19 medical insurance coverage
Bars and nightclubs along with conference and meeting facilities were reopened June 10. Controlled visits to nursing/retirement homes were also allowed along with no-contact indoor sports. Casinos remain closed.
Lottery sales outlets, restaurants with inside seating, bakeries, coffee shops, spas, massage salons and saunas resumed operations on June 1.
Previously, an 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew was put into effect on May 21. Maritime traffic was allowed for registered fishermen during the curfew.
As of May 25th, restaurants with outside seating, gyms, beauty salons and barbershops reopened; all must comply with specific protocols defined by the Aruba government and Department of Health. Government departments were fully operational with all personnel as of May 25th.
On April 28, the curfew time changed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and all businesses were required to close by 9 p.m. On May 4 the shelter in place measures were eased with some businesses and government departments allowed to reopen with no more than 15 allowed inside at any one time. Previously there was a complete lockdown for all incoming passengers from March 17 to March 31, with restrictions on inbound travel for non-residents extended. There were no restrictions for outbound passengers.
On March 28, a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily curfew first went into effect. Under a mandatory shelter-in-place order, people were only allowed to leave their homes for essential business. The government threatened that anyone caught in violation would be detained until the following morning, fined and then released. At least 180 people were arrested for violating the curfew.
The government extended the nightly curfew and mandatory shelter in place directive from April 19 to April 28. They also put in place a ban on gatherings of four people or more, except for families under the same roof. Hospital visits by the general public were also banned until further notice. Aruba confirmed its first two positive cases on March 13.
Bahamas: The number of positive COVID-19 infections continue to remain steady at 104 as of July 7, and 11 deaths after nearly two weeks. As a result of the recent increase of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., the country recently reversed itself and is now demanding a negative COVID-19 RT PCR test, not older than 7 days, from all incoming visitors after opening its airports and seaports to international travelers on July 1. The testing requirement was amended from 10 days to seven days.
All travelers must complete an electronic Health Visa form and no quarantine is required upon arrival. However, travelers who show symptoms of COVID-19 may be transferred to an area away from other passengers for further testing and evaluation.
Restrictions on beaches and parks for the islands of Eleuthera, Harbour Island, Spanish Wells, Exuma and San Salvador were lifted on June 8. After opening beaches in New Providence, Paradise Island, Grand Bahama and Bimini, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, citing the surge in the United States, announced he will not open beaches for the upcoming Bahamas Independence holiday. Beaches will close will close on July 9 until the 13th, he told Parliament.
On June 30th a new emergency orders, signed by Gov. Cornelius Smith went into effect. It calls for mandatory masks in public, sanitation and social distancing.
On June 12, restaurants with outdoor seating were allowed to reopen. The country’s weekend lockdown was lifted on June 13 but the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew Monday to Sunday remains until further notice. Hair salons and barbershops resumed on June 15, the same day the airport reopened for returning nationals and private charter flights. As of June 5, the government’s quarantine facilities closed and returning residents no longer have to quarantine for 14 days. They will, however, be monitored.
Restrictions on weddings, funerals and social gatherings were also relaxed but with social distancing enforcement in this phase.
On May 18, commercial activities resumed in Cat Island, Long Island, Abaco and Andros. Exercise was permitted again on Saturday and Sunday from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. in residents’ immediate neighborhood. Currently residents need a COVID-19 authorization card to travel to some of the family islands.
Minnis in May assumed the role of acting health minister after Dr. Duane Sands resigned on May 4. Minnis accused Sands of breaching protocol when he allowed a private flight with six residents, transporting COVID-19 testing swabs, to land despite the closure of the country’s borders.
A phased reopening of the Bahamian economy was announced on May 3. Certain islands in the southern Bahamas were allowed to fully resume commercial activities while construction sector received the go-ahead in New Providence and on Grand Bahama, which is still recovering from last year’s hurricane.
Minnis announced on May 3 that returning residents would need to provide a negative COVID-19 test and be quarantined for 14 days.
The Bahamas went into its third emergency powers COVID-19 lockdown on April 17 until April 20th. Under the lockdown everything was ordered to remain closed except for essential services. Minnis on April 19, announced the partial re-opening of home and hardware stores, auto parts establishments and plant nurseries, and the resumption of construction in the Family Islands. Landscaping and property maintenance services will also be allowed to operate during the 24-hour curfew, Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The country, which recently had medical supplies blocked by the U.S., had previously announced a mandatory shutdown of all services from 9 p.m. April 3 until 6 a.m. April 6. Similar to the Cayman Islands, the government announced a new food shopping schedule based on an individual’s last name, until further notice. All Bahamians were to remain confined to their homes. All airports, seaports and public beaches were closed. No tourists were allowed to enter the country. The penalty for breaking the orders was a fine of up to $10,000, up to 18 months in prison or both. The government had already closed businesses and schools until April 14, banned parties and public gatherings and imposed travel restrictions for nonresidents who had traveled to China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, and Europe in the last 20 days prior to the order. Returning residents were subjected to quarantine for a maximum of 14 days if they have visited the countries. All national sporting events and permits for use of public spaces are suspended. continue reading