LA PAZ – One is fluorescent green and the other purple. Both sport evil smiles. But although they represent the deadly coronavirus that has caused a global pandemic, their mission is to help the Bolivian police raise awareness about the care that must be taken to prevent its transmission.
“Hello friend, I am the coronavirus,” announce these life-sized characters as they approach passersby in places that continue to see a high footfall, such as the street markets of La Paz, despite the restrictions imposed by the country’s interim government.
Some people get a fright on seeing them, others laugh, and there is no dearth of those wanting to selfies with these cheerful viruses that are the initiative of the Bolivian traffic police to raise awareness of the dangers of COVID-19 as well as preventive measures, including the use of disposable masks and gloves.
The first place these characters visited on Thursday was the crowded Rodriguez market, one of the largest in the west of La Paz, where normalcy prevails in the morning, except for some people who wear masks while selling or shopping.
“I am the virus!” “Keep distance,” “Go home,” they urge, eliciting smiles, praise and occasional anger as they make their way through the market.
“How cool is that?” says a vender on spotting the characters while a police official calls out to his “virus” colleague to approach some sellers.
They also question those who have stepped out of their homes with their children, or couples who walk hand-in-hand despite recommendations to keep their distance.
Accompanying them is an official, who reminds people that only one person per family can go out to do the shopping and that from noon onwards everyone must be back in their homes.
The group then moves to another market a few blocks away on the popular Avenida Buenos Aires, where they repeat the drill.
While young people approach the characters for selfies and others click photos of them, some passersby use the opportunity to clear up some doubts about the quarantine from the official carrying the megaphone.
“The Bolivian police is making every effort to raise public awareness given that there are some other sections who ignore the supreme decree” issuing the quarantine, Police Col. Walter Miranda told EFE on Thursday.
That is how they decided on the idea of people dressing up as COVID-19, with that round shape and antennas with which the virus is associated, so that every day they go to busy markets and streets, accompanied by an officer who, megaphone in hand, explains the measures to prevent the spread of the virus to people, starting with staying at home.
The initiative is also being carried out in other Bolivian cities such as Cochabamba, Miranda said.
“In some areas they do see that this situation that is affecting us globally is a matter of concern and they congratulate us and say that they are going to raise awareness... We have to do everything we can to be able to educate people who don’t understand,” the official added.
The Bolivian police is also adopting other measures to reach people, with video ads and informative pamphlets for those “errant citizens who don’t pay attention” to the initiatives, the colonel said.
Miranda added that police officials are also human and, like everyone, need to be “safe.”
“That’s why we’re asking everyone to stay home and our routes during this quarantine to be unobstructed and empty. That way we’re going to reduce the number of officials we have on the street,” he concluded.
Bolivia, which has reported 42 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in four of its nine regions, was in a state of public health emergency from midnight Thursday, with stricter quarantine measures.