Although the course of the Covid-19 pandemic in Paraguay is the subject of protests calling for the departure of President Mario Abdo Benítez, the local figures for the crisis are low compared to those of the neighbors.
Since the first case of the disease was reported on March 7, 2020, the country has accumulated 168,000 infections (23,365 per million population). Last Friday (5), Brazil recorded 75,337 infections with Covid-19 (51,591 per 1 million inhabitants, in total).
The first death in Paraguay from the virus was confirmed 15 days after the first case. Since then, the country has added 3,318 deaths (461 per million people), according to Johns Hopkins University. Brazil, second in the world in this ranking, has 265,411 (1,243 per 1 million inhabitants).
As soon as the first cases of coronavirus began to appear in the region, Paraguay adopted severe quarantine and border control measures – quickly accepted by the population. Thanks to the system put in place to disseminate the precautions in the fight against dengue, the government was effective in communication and the country experienced, in the first three months of the pandemic, a performance deemed exemplary.
Hostels were set up to isolate arrivals from overseas for 14 days, with costs and oversight borne by the state. In June, when Latin America became the epicenter of the pandemic, the numbers for Paraguay were contradictory, as were those for Uruguay (63,837 cases and 651 deaths in total).
When the country began to ease its rigid quarantine in July, one of the issues that emerged was the border with Brazil, in the Alto Paraná region. Although officially closed, the porous line that divides the countries has not prevented all circulation, causing the first most intense focus of the pandemic.
Combined in the region, another outbreak emerged in the metropolitan area of the capital Asunción after the government in June authorized protocols to ease trade and industrial activity. There were also more international flights, but not at the same pre-pandemic pace.
As of January of this year, however, the case curve has started to increase. Since February 15, the daily number of contagions has exceeded a thousand. At the start of the crisis, that number did not reach 100. Last week, the Brazilian variant of the virus was identified for the first time in the country.
The dissatisfaction of those taking to the streets to protest against the government is linked to the lack of basic supplies in hospitals and health centers, such as pain relievers. The opposition is questioning the government for asking for an international loan of US $ 1.6 million to buy inputs that, so far, have not arrived.
A national vaccination plan has also not been presented – only 4,000 doses of Russian vaccine Sputnik V and 20,000 doses of Chinese Coronavac sold by the Chilean government have reached Paraguay. Little for the 7 million inhabitants of the country. Vaccination has not yet reached 0.1% of the population.
Yet, compared to other cities in the region, Asunción maintains rigorous security protocols. Arriving at the airport, the visitor finds sinks next to the migration line, with water, soap and alcohol gel.
In stores, there are thermometers, and the use of masks is compulsory in the streets and in enclosed spaces. There is a curfew between 12 a.m. and 5 a.m., and until June the measurement started at 8 p.m. To get to Asunción by plane, you need a negative PCR test done up to 72 hours before departure – depending on the purpose of the trip, a quarantine is required.
Protests over the lack of vaccines and health measures to contain the virus sparked the downfall of Health Minister Julio Mazzoleni last week, when protests began to escalate.
In his speech on Saturday, Abdo Benítez said that “all the efforts of the new health authorities will be devoted to the purchase of vaccines”.