PORT-AU-PRINCE – A street market in Petion-Ville, the main commercial area of Port-au-Prince, is crowded on Saturday despite the authorities’ constant recommendations to maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which is still in the nascent stage in the country.
As on any other day, hundreds of people, most of them without masks, crowd around the stalls selling vegetables, fruits, meat and clothing, which display their wares in baskets or arranged on cloth laid on the ground.
There is a constant stream of activity in the market. People arrive and leave in tap-taps, small buses that can accommodate eight to ten passengers, or on motorcycle taxis that gather on both ends of the market.
Five weeks have passed since Haiti announced the closure of airports and borders to combat the spread of the pandemic and, despite conferences, press releases and awareness campaigns, the behavior of the Haitian people has not changed.
Many Haitians do not respect the social distancing rules imposed by the government because they simply do not believe in the existence of the disease.
Jean Marc, a 33-year-old motorcycle driver based in the Tabarre neighborhood near the United States embassy, explained to EFE that many Haitians believe that COVID-19 does not exist and that the government is using the disease “to make money.”
“I have a mask, but I don’t use it often. I don’t hang out in the company of people I don’t know. But I do think the disease exists,” he said.
Haiti currently has 72 COVID-19 infections and six deaths, more than one month after the first case was recorded in the country.
However, specialists predict the worst.
“In the best possible scenario, we predict about 2,000 deaths, but, depending on the evolution of the situation, we can take these forecasts and multiply them by five, by ten,” Patrick Delly, Director of epidemiology of Laboratories and Research and part of the scientific cell managing the health crisis in the country, said in a press conference on Friday.
“In a catastrophic context, we can go beyond 20,000 deaths,” he added.
Haiti lacks beds in intensive care units, ventilators and other medical equipment needed to attend to critical COVID-19 patients.
Moreover, medical teams and healthcare workers from China, which have cost $18 million, have not yet arrived in the country, said Dr. Jean William Pepe, co-chair of the Multisectoral Commission for the Management of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Le Nouvelliste newspaper reported.
COVID-19 cases are expected to peak at the end of May and early June, according to Pepe, who predicts that 86 percent of the population would get infected with the disease Although the initial coronavirus deaths occurred among those aged between 69 and 55 years, the last two fatalities were of a 32- and 18-year-old, respectively.
The first two COVID-19 cases in the country came to light on March 19. The country has recorded six deaths in just 20 days.
Every day, hundreds of Haitians enter the border communities, fleeing the disease and its socioeconomic impact in the neighboring country, Dominican Republic.
In Dominican Republic, where hundreds of thousands of Haitians reside, the disease has progressed faster and there are currently 5,926 cases and 273 deaths.