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  HOME | Latin America (Click here for more)

Fear of Health Infrastructure Collapse Grips Americas as Pandemic Intensifies

BOGOTA – Latin America, considered the current global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, ended the week with 2.3 million cases, around 25 percent of the worldwide total, and 105,000 deaths, even as the infection curve continued to ascend in countries of the region and hospital systems were overrun with patients.

The World Health Organization said on Friday that the number of COVID-19 cases across the world had crossed 9.5 million, with more than 480,000 deaths.

According to the data, the Americas accounted for around five million cases, half of the worldwide total, and nearly double of Europe’s infections.

The WHO has said the curve of the pandemic has continued to rise sharply, largely due to the rate of new infections in countries like the United States and Brazil.

The US, which has recorded the highest number of cases worldwide, has now crossed 2.4 million confirmed infections and 124,000 deaths.

Along with this data, the latest daily record of fresh cases on Friday with over 45,000 cases registered in the last 24 hours has put authorities on alert, especially in the states of California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida, where infection numbers have grown substantially in recent days.

To deal with the situation, many governors are seeking to restrict social gatherings, ordering the mandatory use of masks in public, and even evaluating reimposing lockdown measures.

In Brazil, the second worst-affected country worldwide, infections and deaths continue to rise unabated, with over 55,000 deaths and more than 1.2 million cases.

Epidemiologists even believe that these figures have been underreported and could be higher in reality.

The situation has alarmed neighboring countries such as Paraguay, which on Friday expressed concerns over the spread of the disease in the Alto Parana district – adjacent to Brazil – defining it as the biggest red zone in the country.

The other worst-affected countries in the region are Peru (over 272,000 cases and nearly 9,000 deaths), Chile (263,000 cases and over 5,000 deaths), and Mexico (nearly 203,000 cases and more than 25,000 deaths). Overall, more than 240,000 people have been killed by the disease in the region.

Out of a total of more than 5 million recoveries worldwide, Latin America has witnessed more than 1.2 million people recovering out of the 2.3 million cases.

The US has registered around 660,000 recoveries out of the 2.4 million patients.

In terms of the fatality rate, data from the Johns Hopkins University tracker puts Mexico on top, with 12.3 percent deaths out of the total reported cases, followed by Ecuador (8.2 percent), the US (5.1 percent), Brazil (4.5 percent), Colombia (3.4 percent), Peru (3.3 percent) and Bolivia (3.2 percent).

On Friday, Bolivia completed three months of declaring a state of health emergency with the cases still rising significantly, registering over 28,500 cases and more than 900 deaths among a population of 11 million.

The daily number of cases has shown a growing tendency in recent days amid reports of collapsing healthcare centers and patients dying outside hospitals and on the streets.

Warnings about collapsing healthcare have been sounded from cities like Santa Cruz, the biggest and worst-hit in the country, with reports of patients having to run from hospital to hospital to receive care and families having trouble in burying their dead, a situation similar to what had occurred earlier in Ecuador’s Guayaquil.

The seemingly unending spurt in cases in Mexico has also sparked alarm in the country.

The number of deaths in Mexico jumped from 20,000 to 25,000 in less than a week, while 30,000 fresh cases took the total number of infections to 200,000.

However, the government’s undersecretary of health Hugo Lopez-Gatell said it would be a success if the epidemic could be limited by October, adding that there hadn’t been a sudden rise in cases and the hospital system had not been overwhelmed.

“Although we have a battered health sector facing poor conditions, it hasn’t collapsed and has been able to deal with the pandemic,” he said.

Brazil’s most populated and worst-hit Sao Paulo region is also witnessing similar fears, with the interior districts of the area – which have a weaker healthcare structure compared to the capital – reversing a de-escalation of the crisis on Friday.

Even before the pandemic, Latin America offered a complex situation for its health systems due to much lower investment compared to Europe and widespread pay-gaps, with around 70 percent of countries not able to fulfill the number of medical personnel required.

Amid doubts over the recovery from the pandemic, the International Monetary Fund on Friday drastically reduced its 2020 economic growth forecast to -7.5 percent for Chile, -7.8 percent for Colombia, -13.9 percent for Peru and -20 percent for Venezuela.

The predictions are also bleak for Central America and the Dominican Republic, with the region expected to record negative GDP growth of -5.9 percent, three and a half percent lower than the April forecast, followed by a 3 percent growth in 2021.

IMF experts warned that in a region where most of the countries were still struggling to contain infections, the two biggest economies, Brazil and Mexico, were expected to contract by 9.1 percent and 10.5 percent respectively in 2020.

“The pandemic could worsen and last longer, depressing economic activity, stressing corporate balance sheets, rising poverty, and inequality, and rekindling social tensions across the region,” warned Alejandro Werner, the director of IMF’s western hemisphere department.


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