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The Coronavirus in Latin America

The coronavirus in Latin America

A worker produces hand sanitizer in Brazil. (AP)

September 10, 2020

The coronavirus landed in Latin America on February 26, bringing with it health and economic risks. See what countries so far have confirmed cases and how governments are responding.

The coronavirus landed in Latin America on February 26, when Brazil confirmed a case in São Paulo. Since then, governments across the region have taken an array of actions to protect their citizens and contain COVID-19’s spread. But, per a July 26 Reuters tally, Latin America has become the region with the highest number of confirmed cases globally, accounting for more than a quarter of cases globally. 

Aside from the health risks, there will be an economic impact as well. The World Bank forecasted in June that the Latin American and the Caribbean as a whole will see a GDP contraction of 7.2 percent this year. Prior to the pandemic in October 2019, the multilateral predicted GDP growth of 1.8 percent growth in 2020 for the region.



Below, AS/COA Online takes a look at measures taken and economic impact felt in Latin America.

In other parts of the Americas, of August 25, cases had been confirmed in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Belize, Cayman Islands, Canada, Curaçao, Dominica, Falkland Islands, French Guiana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Sint Eustatius and Saba, St. George's, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St. Marteen, St. Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, Virgin Islands, and the United States.

Argentina Dominican Republic Panama
Bolivia Ecuador Paraguay
Brazil El Salvador Peru
Chile Guatemala Puerto Rico
Colombia Honduras Uruguay
Costa Rica Mexico Venezuela
Cuba Nicaragua  

 

This article was originally published on March 5 and has been updated with new information.

 

 

Argentina

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Government response

  • Reopening plan: On July 18, President Alberto Fernández announced a plan to progressively relax social distancing measures in the Buenos Aires metro region as of July 20, starting with opening neighborhood non-essential business including hair salons and law offices, and permitting outdoor exercise. In a first move toward reopening, the government announced the beginning of a new social distancing phase on June 7 that eases quarantine restrictions for large portions of the national territory with low levels of contagion. On this date, social and economic activity restarted but following strict health guidelines, including restricting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer and maintaining two meters from each other while using facemasks in public spaces.
  • Mitigation measures:
    • On August 30, the government again extended national quarantine through September 20, with stricter social distancing rules in areas with greater contagion levels, namely the metropolitan Buenos Aires region—which includes the capital city and its 35 surrounding districts in the greater Buenos Aires province—and other urban areas across the country.
    • On August 13, Fernández announced that the Argentine laboratory mAbxience signed an agreement with AstraZeneca and Oxford University to produce the COVID-19 vaccine, which is in its third phase of testing. Fernández announced that between 150 and 250 million doses will be available for distribution across Latin America—with the exception of Brazil, which has a separate production and distribution agreement of its own—in the first six months of 2021. Argentina also agreed with Mexico that the first stage of production (producing the active substance) will take place in Argentina while final production stages will be in Mexico.
    • On July 27, the country began clinical trials for COVID-19 treatment using a hyperimmune serum from horse antibodies, developed by biotechnology firm Inmunova. The trials will involve 242 infected volunteers, and results are expected in October at the earliest. Previously, government-financed researchers from two Buenos Aires universities along with two technology companies announced on June 13 they developed a second COVID-19 rapid test kit, approved by the national drug regulatory agency, which they say is faster and more accurate than the previous test announced nearly one month earlier. The government said that laboratories could produce 100,000 testing kits monthly. As of August 5, the ministry reported a testing rate of 17,129 per 100,000 inhabitants
    • On May 1, the government announced the finalized construction of 12 emergency hospitals built in 30 days and making available 1,200 more ICU beds, exceeding Fernández’s promise on March 18 to build eight contingency centers. 
    • On legislative activity, Argentina resumed sessions on May 4 after social distancing was announced by decree on March 20, with only 46 legislators allowed in Congress at once, while all others will attend sessions virtually.
    • Fernández decreed a national health emergency on March 12, to be in effect for one year.  
  • Travel and border restrictionsAn August 30 decree announcing a new social distancing phase extended the closure of land, port, and air borders, barring entry to all foreign nationals until September 20. On April 27, the government imposed a total ban on international and domestic commercial flights until September 1, with no further updates to this measure as of September 10.
  • School closings and restrictions: The government announced on July 14 that nine provinces with low contagion rates will gradually resume in-person learning starting in August. Only small schools in these regions that meet the government’s protocols will be able to open at that point. As of July 29, the Buenos Aires metropolitan region is not included in the selected provinces. In-person classes at all school levels were suspended on March 15.
  • Other updates:
    • On June 29, the Supreme Court lifted the judicial recess that it implemented March 16 for itself as well as national and federal courts and resumed activities remotely. First courts of appeal and criminal courts continue to be suspended until further notice.
    • When it comes to regional ties, Argentina suspended its participation in the Mercosur trade bloc on April 24 to focus on the health and economic crisis at home after partners Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay agreed to advance on new trade agreements with countries, including Canada, India, Lebanon, Singapore, and South Korea. The decision only affects new trade deals, as the country will continue to work on established negotiations such as with the European Union. Argentina said it would reevaluate its position if new agreements were paused.

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP ForecastsA September 4 Central Bank poll reported that GDP will contract 12 percent in 2020, a slightly better outlook than the previous August survey projecting a 12.5 percent contraction. On June 8, the World Bank predicted Argentina’s economy would shrink 7.3 percent this year.
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policy
    • On August 28, the government extended a March 19 decree that caps prices for food and health-related products through October 31.
    • With confirmed cases and deaths continuing to rise, on August 20 the government increased its health budget by over $47 million to help finance universal aid programs during the pandemic.
    • On July 28, the government extended for another 60 days a decree, originally issued April 1, that prohibits companies from firing or suspending employees without just cause or due to downsizing. Previously, after a meeting with cabinet ministers on March 17, the government announced extending leaves of absence for workers above 65 years of age, and fiscal measures such as minimizing individual and corporate taxes.
    • On May 11, the president added over $5.6 billion to the public spending budget and granted Chief of Staff Santiago Cafiero powers to oversee the national budget through the end of 2020 without congressional oversight. Fernández also suspended Cafiero’s congressionally approved 5 percent limit within which to make budget adjustments, saying that it is “necessary to give flexibility to spending related to the health emergency due to COVID-19." The opposition criticized this measure, including former legislator Eduardo Amadeo saying, “It is definitely unconstitutional, a state of emergency cannot shut out Congress.”
    • On April 20, the government submitted to Congress a proposal to tax fortunes of $3 million between 2 and 3.5 percent to offset the economic crisis. In an effort to control price gouging, the government on April 9 announced cooperation with the Interior Commerce Secretariat to control and regulate municipalities’ prices of basic goods across the country, including food and medicine. On April 1, the government announced it will eliminate import taxes on critical medical supplies for the duration of the health crisis.  
  • Social programs:
    • On August 27, the government further expanded definitions for the Emergency Employment and Production Assistance Program, including more companies that fit into the assistance program criteria. On July 24, the government incorporated financing for companies who show an increase in mid-year revenue into the program. Additionally, the government will continue to pay salaries for private sector workers whose income fell in June 2020 compared to the same period last year. Moreover, workers from companies considered “critical”–– including those in tourism, entertainment, culture, health, and sports––will receive complementary salaries through December 2020 up to the minimum wage of $110. This adds to the May 5 expansion to the Program allowing companies with over 800 employees to request assistance, as well as companies who have lost 30 percent in billing. The government announced on April 19 it would pay workers of companies facing financial crisis 50 percent of their salaries, and will give zero-interest loans to self-employed workers. This was the first expansion of the Program announced on April 1, which includes postponing or reducing up to 95 percent of employer payments to the Argentine social security agency, as well as a compensatory salary for workers in companies of up to 100 employees who meet conditions such as being in obligatory quarantine or at high health risk, or whose commission-based productivity has been highly affected.
    • On August 21, the government announced it would extend its price freeze on mobile, internet, and television services through the end of 2020, and come 2021, any price increases must gain government approval.
    • On June 18, the government prolonged an April 30 measure extending the date of suspension for bank accounts until December 31 for holders unable to clear bounced checks or pay fees. On June 9, the government extended through December a measure that requires companies to double severance pay for private sector workers let go from their jobs without just cause, a measure that had gone into effect pre-COVID-19 in December 2019 for six months. The government also announced on June 18 a series of non-deductible monthly bonuses for medical workers of up to $590 for the months of April, May, June, July, and August available on August 1, with amounts sum variable depending on length of service and specialty.  
    • On April 9, the Culture Ministry set up a $460,000 development fund to help cultural institutions such as museums and theaters cover operating costs and salaries.
    • On March 29, the government announced a suspension of evictions for those who can’t pay their rent, as well as a rent freeze based on March rent rates until September 30, after which rent increases would be paid in three monthly payments without interest. Fernández also announced the freezing of mortgage loan rates until September 30.
    • On April 8, the government implemented the Provincial Financial Emergency Program, allocating roughly $1.85 billion from the National Treasury Contribution Fund and Trust Fund for Provincial Development to help provincial finances during the crisis.
  • Other updates:
    • The government announced it reached a $65 billion debt restructuring deal with international creditors on August 4, positioning the country to avoid a default. Previously in a July 21 live broadcast discussion with AS/COA, Fernández urged international creditors to accept the government’s latest debt restructuring proposal, saying that there would not be another and that, “It’s impossible to ask a country with 40 percent poverty to make more of an effort” amid the pandemic.
    • On June 29, the national statistics agency reported a 26.4 percent fall in economic activity in the month of April—the sharpest decline since the early 1990s—as a result of quarantine restrictions. The figure compares to a 17.5 percent contraction in March. The sectors hardest hit include construction, hotels and restaurants, and manufacturing.
    • A June 4 Reuters report indicated that Central Bank reserves fell almost $1 billion in May, leaving reserves at just below $43 billion amid the pandemic, compared to nearly $80 billion in early 2019. A June 4 National Institute for Statistics and Census report revealed a 33.5 percent plummet in industrial production in April 2020 after the pandemic-related restrictions to manufacturing, compared to an 8.9 point contraction the same month the previous year. On March 25, the World Bank had announced it will lend Argentina $300 million in emergency funds, totaling $165 million in 2020 and $135 in 2021.
    • On May 19, the government put a local crude oil price of $45 per “criollo” barrel to back producers at the major Vaca Muerta shale deposit, while Brent crude prices traded at $35 after global oil prices slid in conjunction with the pandemic hit. The measure is set to last through 2020.
    • On May 5, the government announced it would receive a $4 billion loan from the Inter-American Development Bank, rolled out over four years, to mitigate economic impacts from the pandemic.

Bolivia

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Government response

Economic impact and measures

Brazil

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Government response

  • Reopening planIn Brazil, reopening measures are determined on a state level. On September 4, the São Paulo state government announced that over 95 percent of the state is in the yellow phase—the third phase of reopening—meaning bars, restaurants, and beauty salons may reopen for eight operating hours daily to as late as 10 p.m. at 40 percent capacity, and gyms at 30 percent capacity. On May 27, state and city authorities announced a five-level plan to reopen commercial activity beginning June 1, to be revised according to contagion levels. Rio de Janeiro city authorities announced that on September 1, the city moved into Phase 6, which includes reopening of cultural activities such as museums, libraries, and cultural centers. Rio de Janeiro state authorities reopened tourism on August 12, including prime tourist spots at 50 percent visitor capacity. Previously, state authorities announced a gradual 6-phase reopening plan to start on June 2, and on July 9, Mayor Marcelo Crivella said people will only be allowed to stay at the beach once a vaccine is available for distribution, and violators will be subject to a fine, although sport activity is permitted. Allowed in the first phase are sports facilities, outdoor exercise, aquatic activities in the ocean including surf, church gatherings, furniture stores, and automobile shops. On July 2, the government of Brasília announced a reopening schedule for the capital under strict health guidelines, including opening commercial activities on July 7 such as beauty parlors, barber shops, and gyms, while bars and restaurants reopened on July 15. 
  • Mitigation measures:
    • Having experienced the largest contagion outbreak after the United States, Brazil has become a focus spot for the COVID-19 vaccine race, with four candidates in human testing. Bolsonaro, however, announced on September 3 that once a vaccine becomes available, it will not be obligatory. On September 9, laboratory DASA announced it agreed to conduct Phase 2 and 3 trials of the U.S. COVAXX vaccine, pending regulatory approval, once the first phase of trials concludes in Asia. The country’s health regulator Anvisa approved clinical trials for a fourth vaccine on August 18, that of Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical branch Janssen, involving 6,000 volunteers. In earlier developments, on August 7, billionaire Jorge Lemann’s foundation alongside other businesses announced they will pay $18 million for the construction of a factory to produce a COVID-19 vaccine in development by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. Previously, on June 27, the government announced it had signed a $127 million deal to locally produce the trial COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine with leading public health entity Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, or Fiocruz, saying they will produce around 30 million doses by January 2021. The day before, Bolsonaro set aside $356 million to buy the first 100 million doses of the vaccine and support domestic production, and acting Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello forecast the vaccine to be ready at the start of 2021. On July 29, the state of Paraná and Chinese company Sinopharm agreed to launch a COVID-19 vaccine trial in Brazil, pending regulatory approval. This would join trials already announced in the South American country by companies AstraZeneca, Sinovac Biotech, and a Pfizer deal with BioNTech. Previously, Doria announced on June 11 that the Butantan Institute, a government center for scientific study, would partner with Chinese laboratory Sinovac Biotech to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, which is in its third and final stage of testing. This comes after Anvisa announced on June 3 it approved human clinical trials to start for the possible vaccine set to take place in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo on thousands of volunteers recruited by Rede D’Or São Luiz hospitals and the Federal University of São Paulo. Despite being a center for vaccine trials, some experts reveal it could take Brazil between two and 10 years to produce vaccines domestically due to the difficulty of technology transfers and the country’s under-invested production facilities.On June 12, the Health Ministry announced it registered more than 970,000 health professionals in the Brazil Counts on Me plan to recruit medical students and health professionals to help on the pandemic frontlines, including those studying to be doctors, nurses, nursing technicians, and pharmacists. This was on the same day that Brazil confirmed the world’s second-highest COVID-19 death toll after the United States after counting 900 deaths in 24 hours.
    • Bolsonaro and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump issued a joint statement on May 31 saying they “stand in solidarity” and will “remain in close coordination” in their responses to the coronavirus pandemic. The statement also announced that the United States would send 2 million doses of the disputed hydroxychloroquine drug to Brazil for prophylactic and therapeutic treatments and that the two countries will conduct clinical trials on the drug’s efficacy. This joint effort comes after Washington restricted travel to non-U.S. citizens from Brazil into the United states starting May 26. 
    • On May 21, at least eight states said they will not follow expanded May 20 guidelines issued by the Health Ministry, which is temporarily being headed by General Pazuello. Those guidelines encourage the use of antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms. This came after pressure from Bolsonaro, to push the drugs became a point of contention between the president and his prior top health officials. Bolsonaro removed Luiz Henrique Mandetta on April 16 and replaced him with Nelson Teich, who in turn resigned on May 15, after both clashed with the president over the guidelines recommending hydroxychloroquine for patients with mild symptoms.
    • On April 15, the Supreme Court affirmed that states and municipalities have the autonomy to regulate social distancing measures.
    • On April 7, Mandetta spoke with Chinese Ambassador Yang Wanming to negotiate the shipment of 250 million units of medical equipment, including 40 million masks, as well as ventilators. The health minister also said more than 53 million personal equipment units and 135,000 testing kits have been distributed to states since the outbreak, and another 300,000 tests will be distributed. 
  • Travel and border restrictions: On July 29, the government announced it would allow foreigners to enter the country via air travel, although five states will maintain international airports closed until at least the end of August. Entry to the country hinges on foreigners purchasing valid health insurance covering the entirety of their stay. On June 30, the government announced it will restrict entry from foreign nationals for 30 days, exempting those with permanent residence, work authorization, people married to or parents of Brazilian nationals, or people are in transit to other countries at Brazilian airports. On June 20, the government extended the measure of closed land and air borders for foreign nationals through July 6, while commerce may continue as normal. This restriction excludes permanent residents, diplomats, or international organization officials.
  • School closings and restrictionsAs Folha de S.Paulo reported on August 10, only the federal district and three other states including Amazon, São Paulo, and Paraná are scheduled to reopen schools in September, although a date was not specified. While some states suspended in-person classes as early as March 12, school was suspended nationally on March 26, per Unesco’s COVID-19 impact on education tracker. The National Council of Education Secretaries published a document on June 26 issuing protocols for the eventual reopening of school. Public and private institutions in São Paulo, for example, are slated to reopen on September 8, functioning at 35 percent capacity. On June 30, the Chamber of Deputies approved a provisional measure adjusting the minimum number of days in the school year due to the pandemic. Preschools are not required to meet the 800 hours and 200 days of school per year minimum while middle and high schools must complete the 800 hours but not 200 days.
  • Other updates:
    • Per an August 14 Datafolha poll, Bolsonaro’s approval rating reached its highest since the president took office in January 2019. Of people surveyed, 37 percent said they view his government as great or good, a 5 percent jump from a June poll. His disapproval rating also dropped 10 points, from 44 to 34 percent.
    • The Supreme Court ruled on August 5 that the government must take measures to prevent COVID-19 spread in vulnerable indigenous communities and gave Bolsonaro 30 days to come up with a plan. On July 8, Bolsonaro vetoed 16 sections of a law that mandated the government provide drinking water, disinfectants, and hospital bed quotas for indigenous peoples during the pandemic, while leaving the proposed testing supplies, ambulance services, and medical equipment. On June 30, the military delivered medical supplies and 13,500 chloroquine pills by helicopter to Amazonian indigenous groups at the Venezuelan border. This came after, on April 10, the government announced measures to protect over 800,000 members of indigenous communities from the virus.
    • On July 1, the Chamber of Deputies approved a measure to postpone municipal elections from October 4 to November 15, with a second vote on November 29. Some municipalities may still change the date of their voting according to more localized assessments of health risks, but elections may not pass December 27.

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP forecasts: On September 1, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) reported a 9.7 percent GDP contraction in the second quarter of 2020, compared to a 5.9 percent contraction in the first quarter.  Brazil’s economic policy secretary said on July 22 that the country's economic downturn will be closer to -4.7 percent. On June 25, the Central Bank cut its 2020 GDP growth projections to -6.40 percent, down from a previous 0 percent on March 26. A June IMF report projected Brazil’s GDP will contract 9.1 percent in 2020. Previously, a June 8 World Bank report projected that Brazil’s GDP will contract 8.0 percent in 2020, which is 3.0 points more than what the bank forecast in April
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policy:
    • Guedes, speaking alongside the president on August 19, was optimistic about the country’s economic recovery and said that financing for company salary payments will more than double over the course of the year to reach more than 200,000 employers. The economy minister also said the government will offer credit between $36 and $54 billion for small businesses by December 2020. Previously, however, as the economy heads into recession, the Central Bank’s rating committee, known as Copom, said on June 15 it will lower interest rates by 0.75 points on June 17 to 2.25 percent, where they will stay until the end of the year. Copom also said it plans to gradually increase the rates, with the goal of ending 2021 at 3.0 percent. On May 6 the Central Bank cut the interest rate by 75 points
    • On June 8, development bank BNDES suspended interest and debt payments owed by states and municipalities through 2020 due to the economic impacts of COVID-19, a measure that could save states up to $790 million. This is additional to the roughly $388 million in credit loans the bank announced it would give out to the health sector in March
    • On May 29, the Central Bank’s National Monetary Council extended a trio of measures through the end of the year: caps on banks increasing dividends, salary reductions for banks’ senior staff, and limits on financial institutions’ share buybacks. 
    • On May 27, Bolsonaro signed a law releasing $11.3 billion in federal aid to states and municipalities, distributed over four months. The law also suspends local governments’ debt payments to the federal government, as well as credit renegotiations, during the state of emergency. The president gave a line-item veto, however, to a section of the bill that proposed salary increases for government employees, ruling out pay raises until December 2021, with the exception of frontline healthcare workers
    • On May 11, the Health Ministry announced it distributed roughly $1.87 billion to help fight the pandemic, including structural improvements to health services as well as personal protection equipment, tests, and respirators.
    • On April 23, the Senate approved a $2.9 billion credit line for small businesses.
    • On April 22, the government announced the $4.7 billion “Pro-Brazil” economic plan, which will roll out in October 2020. No members of the Economy Ministry attended the announcement. On May 19, the president approved a law creating credit lines for micro and small businesses. These loans can be for up to 30 percent of the business’ 2019 profit and have a 36-month amortization period. 
  • Social programs:
    • On September 1, Bolsonaro announced an extension to the emergency aid checks to informal and unemployed workers, and beneficiaries of the Bolsa Família welfare program through December 31, with four more installments worth about $56. August 20 Economy Ministry reports show that unemployment insurance claims in the first two weeks of August fell 23.2 percent from the second half of July. The Ministry previously reported that these payments would total over $28 billion instead of the original $18.2 billion. Ministry reports show that unemployment insurance claims in the first two weeks of May rose by over 76 percent compared to the same period in 2019.
    • On May 15, Bolsonaro vetoed an April 22 Senate-approved expansion to the emergency universal basic income plan, first signed by the president on March 31, that made informal workers who are not registered in the Citizenship Ministry eligible for benefits. The expansion to include teenage mothers and single parents remains. The measure allows companies to reduce worker salaries for three months or suspend them for two months, and the government will subsidize those affected proportional to the unemployment benefits they can claim.
    • On May 7, Congress passed the constitutional amendment—previously passed by the House on April 3—creating a “war budget” to separate COVID-19 spending from the federal budget and granting the Central Bank bond-buying power to help calm financial markets. The measure is set to last until the end to the state of calamity declared on March 20, allowing for additional federal funds to combat the pandemic. When the Chamber of Deputies first passed the amendment in April, the government also freed up roughly $1.8 billion to support public health, adding about $2.7 billion more to the healthcare budget. The government, when announcing the state of calamity, said it could result in a deficit of over $30 billion, above the predetermined ceiling of roughly $24 billion.
    • On April 27, Brazil’s bank industry group Febraban said that financial institutions have postponed roughly $3.91 billion in debt payments thus far that are due in the next few months to help consumers and companies amid the pandemic. In March, the group’s top lenders said they would offer a grace period of two to six months to pay debt installments. On April 7, the federal government added $4 billion into workers’ severance fund, making possible a withdrawal of $200 per worker, available on June 15. Guedes had announced a stimulus measure on March 16 of over $29 billion to accelerate social assistance payments, defer corporate taxes, and ease severance fund access. 
  • Other updates:
    • On September 4, Brazil expanded its 2020 government primary deficit from 11 to 12.1 percent, accounting for the extension of emergency aid checks through the year, announced three days earlier.
    • Brazil lost 1.2 million formal jobs in the first six months of the year, according to figures from the Economy Ministry released on July 28. Services activity, which accounts for roughly 70 percent of economic activity, fell 11.7 percent in April following a 6.9-point fall in March according to the BGE, in the sharpest decline recorded since the start of this reporting in January 2011. A June 3 report also showed that industrial production reached record-low levels with an 18.8 percent decline in April following a 9 percent fall in March.
    • On May 22, the Economy Ministry reported that national debt will hit record levels in 2020 due to the health crisis, with gross national debt reaching 93.5 percent of GDP, and net debt at 67.6 percent of GDP. A day earlier, the Economy Ministry announced that pandemic-related measures will cost Brazil roughly $62 billion on 2020’s primary budget balance.
    • On May 8, the IBGE reported that due to the recent drop in oil prices, Brazil’s consumer price inflation fell 0.31 percent in April, the lowest in 20 years. 
    • On May 5, Fitch Ratings downgraded Brazil to a negative outlook from stable, given worsening economic projections given the pandemic. 
    • On April 4, Guedes announced the advancing of 2020 holidays—with the exception of good Friday on April 10, worker’s day on May 1, and Christmas on December 25—for economic activity to recover faster once quarantine is lifted.
    • The Health Ministry estimated the pandemic would cost the healthcare system just under $2 billion.
    • On April 3, the Brazilian real devalued 1.15 percent, reaching a record low of R$5.32 per U.S. dollar. The Brazilian stock market tumbled 7 percent on news of the first case, amounting to the biggest depreciation since May 2017.  

Chile

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Government response

  • Reopening planOn July 20, the government announced a new “Step by Step” reopening plan based on a district’s infection rate. The plan’s five phases are: quarantine, transition, preparation, initial opening, and advanced opening. As of September 10, the majority of the country is in the third phase, the preparation step, and some districts in the south and central regions have moved into the initial opening phase. Starting August 31, there will be 27 districts in the Santiago metropolitan region in step two, the transitional phase entailing a lifting of quarantine restrictions from Monday to Friday while maintaining strict health guidelines such as wearing masks in public and washing hands frequently. On weekends people must stay at home. This was the first step of reopening for the country’s most populous area. 
  • Mitigation measures:
  • Travel and border restrictions: The government announced it would close all borders as of March 18, allowing only Chilean citizens to reenter the country with an obligatory two-week quarantine. 
  • School closings and restrictions: The Education Ministry announced on June 12 that schools will remain closed until further notice, and they are working with the Health Ministry to assess when schools can safely reopen. The government first suspended in-person classes in schools on March 15.
  • Other updates:
    • An August 17 Cadem poll showed Piñera’s approval ratings rose from 12 to 19 percent compared with a July survey. The poll also showed that 47 percent of Chileans disagreed with lifting lockdown, but that only 56 percent of nationals now said they fear contagion, the lowest level of fear since March 16.  On June 13, Piñera named Dr. Enrique Paris the new health minister, after Mañalich resigned amid rising pressures to revise the methodology of COVID-19 cases. Mañalich acknowledged the country “requires new leadership” in the next phase of its pandemic response.
    • In a May 17 televised address, Piñera announced new measures, including: distributing 2.5 million food baskets to low-income families, establishing two new funding institutions to make loans more readily available for small business, implementing a mental health plan, increasing the number of shelters for patients who may not have appropriate conditions for isolation at home to complete quarantine if known to have the virus, and committing to a better system of releasing more localized epidemiological information. In addition, political parties and the Electoral Service on March 19 agreed to postpone the constitutional referendum to October 25.

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP forecasts: A September 2 Central Bank report showed a lighter GDP contraction for 2020 of between 4.5 and 5.5 percent, compared to a previous June projection of 5.5 to 7.5 percent. A June 8 World Bank report projected Chile’s GDP will contract 4.3 percent in 2020. In April, the IMF forecast a contraction of 4.5 percent in 2020, down from forecasts in January of 0.9 percent growth and further still from 3.0 percent growth in October. The IMF’s numbers are below the Central Bank’s projections of a 1.5–2.5 percent contraction in 2020.
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policy:
    • Some 14 million Chileans receive some form of aid, according to Piñera, who spoke about the government’s support to the middle class on August 14. The president said that to this date, over one million people received the Middle Class Plan’s $626 bonus approved by Congress on July 30 to those making between $525 and $2,000 monthly in 2019, as well as those who had a 30 percent or higher pay decrease during the pandemic. He also announced that the government approved over 550,000 requests for small loans of up to $815. Previously, Piñera announced on July 5 a new $1.5 billion stimulus package aiming to help 1 million middle class families, including zero-interest loans, subsidized rents, and mortgage deferments for up to six months.
    • On August 11, the Finance Ministry announced a roughly $69 million cut to nine regions’ budgets in what the Ministry called a “reassignment” of money from areas with slower spending rates to others that are running low on pandemic-related funds.
    • Though the president opposed a pension reform measure that allows citizens to take out 10 percent of their savings in the national Pension Fund Administration system, he signed it into law on July 24, a day after Congress passed it. Over 80 percent of Chileans support the measure, per a July Cadem poll.
    • Piñera announced the distribution of an additional $120 million for municipalities across the country to fight the virus and keep public services operational as part of the Solidary Municipal Fund. This sum is a 20 percent increase from initial funds distributed in May.
    • On June 14, the president detailed a $12 billion emergency plan after the bill passed Congress that morning in a bipartisan agreement. The plan includes funds for the Emergency Family Income Project, local governments, civil society organizations, increased unemployment protections, and health services.
    • The government announced new measures for economic relief on May 18 to small- and medium-sized businesses, aiming to give $150 million to 180,000 businesses nationwide. On April 28, Piñera announced a law freeing up to $24 billion for companies to access loans to benefit nearly 100 percent of Chile’s businesses, who provide 84 percent of employment. The credit line offers a period of 48 months for repayment at 0 percent real interest rates. On March 27, the government announced financial help to small companies by suspending stamp taxes—imposed on documents that show money lending operations—for six months and extending a credit line to public bank BancoEstado worth $500 million for emergency loans.
    • On May 12, the Central Bank requested a flexible two-year IMF credit line of $23.8 billion. Finance Minister Ignacio Briones said the loan is to bolster the Central Bank’s “solid position” and would allow the financial institution to complement its international reserves.
    • Previously on April 8, the government announced the second phase of the economic emergency plan with new measures aiding 2.6 million informal workers to be be rolled out in three ways: a $3 billion guarantee fund for small companies from BancoEstado, a fund of up to $2 billion for workers to access emergency jobs and benefits, and the implementation of entities to regulate the Central Bank’s liquidity facilities. Briones said the measure will put Chile’s fiscal deficit at 8 percent of GDP. The first phase of the plan was announced on March 19, using a special constitutional clause to free up nearly $11.7 billion without congressional approval, a measure equaling roughly 4.7 percent of annual GDP.
    • The government announced on March 23 it would delay a 2020 bond issue of up to $8.7 billion to help finance the previously announced emergency package to protect jobs amid the coronavirus crisis.  
  • Social programs:
    • On June 13, the Ministry of Social and Family Development announced the second distribution of food products to benefit over 3 million low-income Chileans under the Food for Chile program. The president announced the food campaign on May 18, with the aim to distribute 2.5 million food baskets across Chile. On June 16, Piñera signed into law a project widening the Emergency Family Income project that was announced on April 20 to complement wages for vulnerable families by up to roughly $500 per family with informal income and $125 for those with formal earnings. This extension of the economic relief measure may now reach up to 5.6 million Chileans—a 20 percent increase in outreach to 80 percent of the population.
    • Previously on April 15, the government announced a $11.4-million Winter Plan to help people on the streets as the country enters the cold season in which the virus could spread more easily. The plan establishes 180 care centers, including 22 centers that will focus just on the elderly and vulnerable populations, as well as more than 1,000 ICU beds and 80 drive-by facilities that will be able to attend to over 4,000 people a day. This comes after an April 2 Health Ministry announcement for mandatory quarantine and health checkpoints to be established at 950 senior nursing facilities
    • On April 17, 2.7 million Chileans started receiving relief from the COVID-19 Bonus, approved on March 28, as part of an economic plan allowing low income families to delay utility payments without having services cut, providing $60 per dependent to each of these families, and passing job protection legislation for those who can’t work during quarantine. 
  • Other updates:
    • On August 3, the Central Bank announced that economic activity dropped 12.4 percent in June 2020 in comparison to the same month in 2019. May numbers showed a 13.5 percent drop compared to the previous year.
    • On March 24, Piñera announced a new labor law regulating and facilitating remote work, including mandatory requirements that stipulate work vs. personal time. 
    • Also March 24, the government established a maximum cost of $30 for the COVID-19 test in private healthcare facilities.  

Colombia

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Government response

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP forecasts: On June 8, the World Bank released updated projections that indicated the Colombian economy will contract by 4.9 percent in 2020, down from a –2.0 percent projection in April and further still from 3.6 percent growth projection in October 2019. On March 27, S&P downgraded Colombia’s credit rating from stable to negative, warning that the country could lose its investment grade status in the next 12 to 18 months. Still, Colombia is in a position to lead regional recovery, said the IMF’s Alejandro Werner in an interview on April 16, due to its resilience and strong internal demand.
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policy: On July 22, Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez, Commerce Minister José Manuel Restrepo, and ProColombia President Flavia Santoro presented the government’s plan for economic reactivation post-COVID. The plan incorporates 13 strategies, with special focuses on promoting job creation, the knowledge economy, and international e-commerce. The goal of the plan, said Ramírez, “isn’t to figure out how we can see more of our products, but rather how we produce more of what the international market demands, what the world wants to buy.” The plan also aims to cut unemployment, currently over 21 percent, to 6 percent by the end of 2022.
  • Social programs:
    • Colombia’s lower house approved a “clean slate” law on May 27 that would give debtors a yearlong grace period to catch up on their payments, and those who do would have any negative credit reports erased at the end of the 12 months. The bill, which also includes protections for victims of identity theft, will go to a conference committee first before it heads to Duque’s desk for signing.
    • Duque announced a set of economic measures on March 24, including disbursements of about $40 to 3 million low-income families, easing some conditions for student loan repayments.
  • Other updates:
    • Brent oil prices, the benchmark for Colombian oil exports, rose above $36 on May 26, after dropping below $20 per barrel on April 21. In order to maintain exploration and production levels, Colombia needs a barrel price of between $40 and $45. Oil export revenues represent 2.7 percent of Colombian GDP, compared to 11.3 percent in Venezuela.
    • On May 1, the IMF approved a renewal for a two-year flexible credit line for Colombia totaling $10.8 billion. Additionally, the Colombian government asked for a total of $3 billion from the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and the CAF – Development Bank of Latin America. Local economists estimate that one month of national quarantine costs between $15 and $20 billion, or about 4.5 to 6.1 percent of GDP.
    • Manufacturing production in April fell almost 36 percent year-on-year, Colombia’s national statistical agency, known as DANE, reported on June 12, the biggest single-month decline since 1991. Auto parts, transportation, and footwear manufacturing took the biggest hits of the 39 sectors evaluated. Foods, grains, and baked goods, meanwhile, were among the half dozen sectors that grew. Commercial activity overall was down 43 percent.
    • Unemployment was at 19.7 percent in July, down from 21.4 percent in May, but still the highest rate of OECD member countries. Of the unemployed, some 43.5 percent said they’d lost their job due to the pandemic, according to a report released by DANE at the end of June. That same report found that, in the country’s 13 largest urban areas, unemployment is up to 24.5 percent, compared to 11.2 percent in the same month a year earlier; a third of unemployed urban residents say they’re no longer able to keep up with bills and payments.

Costa Rica

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Government response

  • Mitigation measures: Costa Rica was credited as being successful in its efforts to slow contagion in the early days of the pandemic, but a spike in cases in June pushed officials to reconsider their opening strategy. Prior to the pandemic, Costa Rica already had a color-coded national emergency alert system that ranged from from green (for providing information for an upcoming phenomenon) to red (all emergency response teams activated). Between the two, yellow activates the country’s national emergency commission and signifies that residents should take precautionary measures. In the context of the pandemic,  an orange alert signals suspected and confirmed cases will be evacuated and isolated.
  • Travel and border restrictions:  Costa Rica reopened its borders to Canada, the EU, and UK on August 1. Then, on August 13, the government expanded its list of authorized countries to a total of 44, with Uruguay being the only Latin American one to make the list. Starting September 1, some U.S. tourists are allowed into Costa Rica, so long as they are from the approved list of states and provide proof of residence upon arrival. Travelers must fill out an epidemiological survey and present proof of a negative PCR test done in the 72 hours leading up to arrival in Costa Rica. Citizens and residents of the country may leave but will be required to undergo a two-week quarantine upon return in most cases. Sea and land borders remain closed.
    • Alvarado first announced the closure of all land, air, and sea entry points on March 16.
  • School closings and restrictionsThe country’s Education Ministry announced August 28 that in-person classes will not resume for the remainder of the year, instead continuing virtually as has been the case since mid-April. Costa Rica ordered universities to close and suspended public and private schools starting March 16 through April 4. 
  • Other updates:
    • On April 11, Costa Rican authorities opened an air base at the country’s border with Nicaragua to reinforce border closure policies along the normally high-traffic shared border. The base came with heightened military personnel and surveillance to prevent people crossing south, according to Vice President Epsy Campbell, in light of the fact that the Nicaraguan government has instituted minimal measures to slow contagion within its borders. A May 14 letter signed by 52 out of the 57 members of Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly urged the director of the Pan American Health Organization to take “forceful and urgent” actions regarding Nicaragua, stating that the Ortega administration’s response to the pandemic was a danger to its neighbors.
    • The WHO, along with Alvarado, launched on May 29 the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, an initiative that aims to make vaccines, tests, treatments and other health technologies to respond to COVID-19 widely accessible. The initiative was Alvarado’s idea; on March 24 he requested that the WHO create a repository of information available to all member countries.

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP forecasts: Costa Rica’s Central Bank (BCCR) announced on July 31 that it predicts the country’s economy will shrink by 5 percent this year, its largest fall in four decades. Prior to the BCCR figures, the government announced on July 10 that the country’s fiscal deficit will increase to 9.7 percent of the GDP compared to the 6.96 percent deficit of 2019. Both April and June projections by the World Bank show that Costa Rica’s economy will contract by 3.3 percent in 2020.
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policyAlvarado announced on July 13 that the government is making its largest cut to public spending in the country’s history due to the pandemic. The cuts will be equivalent to 1 percent of Costa Rica’s GDP and will include every sector except social programs. Prior to that, the government announced on May 8 a $1.5 billion economic package including loans; assistance for micro-, small-, and medium businesses; and a plan to attract private investment. The loans are available to all productive sectors and may be used as seed capital assistance or for business-reopening costs. Costa Rica’s Central Bank announced on April 29 that the IMF had granted Costa Rica an emergency loan worth $508 million to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. A month earlier, Costa Rica’s national emergency commission received a $1 million aid package from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration.
  • Social programs: The government launched an online financial support platform on April 9 called Plan Proteger through which Costa Ricans who have lost their jobs or are suffering income insecurity may request a monthly bonus of up to $220 for three months. On March 19, Alvarado signed into law tax relief legislation that placed a moratorium on four types of taxes from April through June: the Value-Added Tax, profit taxes, selective consumption taxes, and tariffs on imported merchandise.
  • Other updates:

Cuba

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Government response

  • Reopening plan: The government unveiled its three-stage reopening plan on June 11, and though officials did not specify dates for each phase, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero indicated that each province will have its own reopening calendar adhering to health protocols and indicators. As of September 9, 13 out of the island’s 15 provinces are in the second or third reopening phases after the government began lifting restrictions on June 18, per Díaz-Canel. The Havana province reverted to lockdown in early August after previously having remained in phase one, per an August 8 government announcement.
  • Mitigation measures: By the start of July, every province in Cuba had moved past the “limited local transmission” phase initially decreed for the entire country on April 7. However, on August 8, the government announced that the Havana province and capital would revert to said phase and be placed on lockdown after several outbreaks within the region. Then, on August 28, Havana’s governor announced a stricter 15-day lockdown for Havana to go into effect September 1, including a nightly curfew between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. and a ban on interprovincial travel from the region.
    • Cuba began human trials for its vaccine candidate, Soberana, on August 23.
    • Under the government’s new lockdown measures in Havana, all bars, restaurants, and beaches will remain shut. Public transportation is suspended, and inter-provincial travel will be limited in and out of Havana.
    • With the transmission phase, the Defense Councils across the country set up quarantines in neighborhoods or municipalities with suspected or confirmed local transmission.
    • On May 12, the Health Ministry published in the government’s official gazette the sanitary and health protocols to follow during the pandemic, though these measures had largely been in place since early April. The text includes that those who experience symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 or have had contact with someone infected with the coronavirus must report to the nearest health facility for further guidance. When asked by a health official, Cubans must also provide any personal information deemed necessary for the “effective prevention of the transmission of COVID-19.” 
  • Travel and border restrictions: Starting July 1, select areas in the northern region of the island began welcoming international tourists for all-inclusive vacations, allowing the government to isolate tourists from the general population. Tourists will be tested upon arrival, and those who come back positive will be isolated for 14 days. International commercial flights were suspended April 2 after the country initially announced that it would remain open to tourism in mid-March. Since March 24, Cuban nationals and foreign permanent residents who return from abroad to the island must be quarantined for two weeks
  • School closings and restrictions: Schools are scheduled to reopen in September after being closed since late March. The 2019-2020 school year will resume in person on September 1 in every province except in Havana, per an August 14 government announcement.
  • Other updates:
    • Cuba has deployed medical brigades to over 20 countries to support local efforts. On March 16, Cuba’s Health Ministry allowed the British cruise ship MS Braemar to dock, following a UK request. The ship had several confirmed infected passengers. The Cuban government gave medical attention to all those onboard and coordinated repatriation via air. 

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP forecasts: Cuba’s Minister of Economy and Planning estimated in January that the country’s economy will grow by 1 percent this year, while other experts project a contraction of up to 10 percent.
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policy: The government announced a series of economic measures on July 16 that went into effect on July 20. Among the measures, the government announced that more markets would accept dollars and that the tax imposed on the dollar would be eliminated.
    • Per a May 4 Granma report, Cuba’s Council of Ministers approved a series of adjustments to the island’s fiscal plan for 2020 due the pandemic, including the prioritization of allocating funds to boost the agricultural and food production sectors.
    •  On March 26, the government announced the temporary suspension of more than 16,000 work licenses for entrepreneurs, including landlords, contract workers, restaurant workers, and craftsmen.
  • Social programs: Between April 1 and April 7, Cuba’s Ministry of Labor and Social Security announced a series of measures aimed at protecting workers, including that workers who must undergo a 14-day isolation period will receive 100 percent of their basic salary for the time period. Older and at-risk workers were instructed to stay home and will receive 100 percent of their basic salary for the first month and 60 percent thereafter.
  • Other updates:
    • On April 1, the government announced that prices for cell phone data and voice usage would be lower in the mornings. Rates for national long distance calls were also reduced by 25 percent between 6 a.m. and 5:59 p.m. and by 50 percent between 6 p.m. and 5:59 a.m. The government also added 10 hours to the at-home internet service Nauta Hogar for the month of April. On April 22, these measures were extended until May 30. Then, on May 30, these measures were extended in part until June 30.

Dominican Republic

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Government response

  • Reopening plan: President Danilo Medina announced on May 17 the government’s plan to partially reopen the Dominican economy to go into effect on May 20. Since then, here is a list of what has happened with the plan:
    • Although phase three of the country’s reopening was tentatively scheduled to go into effect June 17, the government decided on June 16 to postpone that move after cases peaked during the initial two phases.
    • Before that, the country began phase two of its four-phase reopening plan on June 3. Under the second phase, public buses began running at 60 percent capacity, some commercial retailers reopened, and churches were allowed to resume their Sunday services with reduced attendees.
    • The plan went into effect with phase one May 20 when micro- and small-sized businesses were able to reopen with up to 50 percent of personnel, and medium to large businesses with up to 25 percent. The public sector reopened at 50 percent, and state public transportation began to run at 30 percent capacity.  
  • Mitigation measures: On July 20, outgoing President Medina declared a 45-day national state of emergency with new restrictions starting July 21, reverting to a decree the government previously issued in mid-March and extended through the end of June. Luis Abinader, who previously tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered, was sworn in as the country’s president on August 16 and, upon assuming office, his administration presented a new plan for combating the pandemic. Below is a chronology of some of the measures taken by both presidencies:
    • On September 1, Abinader extended Medina’s state of emergency for 25 more days, starting September 3. However, the president modified the national curfew to be between 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays and between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weekends.
    • Among the measures presented in mid-August, Abinader kept Medina’s previous state of emergency and national curfews in effect through at least September 3. Under Medina’s state of emergency, two curfews were in effect starting July 21, initially for a period of 20 days but then extended for 25 more days on August 8 through September 3. The emergency decree divided the country into two groups based on contagion within the country’s 31 provinces and the National District and assigned two different curfews––one stricter than the other––to each group accordingly: 14 provinces and the National District, including the capital, had a curfew between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m., while the remaining 17 provinces have an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. 
    • Before the July nationwide state of emergency decree, the government declared the entire national territory as being under an epidemic on June 30, which granted the government the power to institute new measures to mitigate and control the spread of the coronavirus including suspending most commercial, social, and recreational activities.
    • The Health Ministry announced on May 5 that authorities would begin to intervene in the most affected provinces with the help of the country’s Armed Forces, the National Health Service, the Center for Emergency Operations, and other official entities. The interventions, which began on May 14, include measures such as setting up rapid testing centers, limiting movement within designated zones, and decontaminating hospitals and other medical facilities, supermarkets, and malls. The Ministry designated a total of seven areas––each made up of a handful of municipalities with the most confirmed cases––to be inspected.
    • On April 22, Medina inaugurated the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Cybersecurity Center (C5i), a new agency housed within the Ministry of Defense that works in conjunction with the country’s Armed Forces to monitor and enforce measures, including enforcing at-home quarantines and moving patients to medical facilities.
    • Wearing face masks in public became mandatory on April 16. 
  • Travel and border restrictions: The Dominican Republic reopened its borders for international tourism on July 1. A new tourism protocol, which begins September 15, will no longer require tourists to present a negative test result upon arrival. The government will perform random tests at their airport instead. Also on said date, the government will begin offering free health insurance to tourists to cover any coronavirus-related costs, through the end of the year. Between July 30 and September 14, the Dominican Republic required tourists to present a negative molecular test result, and those who did not comply were tested at the airport at the government’s cost. Medina initially ordered the country’s borders to close beginning March 19. Before that, the government had suspended all incoming flights from Europe, China, and Iran between March 16–30 after suspending all flights from Milan on February 28.
  • School closings and restrictions: The Education Ministry announced August 24 that the 2020-2021 school year will begin November 2 and be extended 45 days, and classes will be held remotely via television, radio, and the internet. Though schools were scheduled to open August 24, the Medina government announced June 30 that in-person learning would remain suspended for the foreseeable future. Medina ordered public schools and universities to close and suspended in-person classes on March 17. 
  • Other updates:
    • Despite a spike in cases, the Dominican Republic held general elections on July 5 and elected opposition candidate Luis Abinader of the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) for president. Abinader had just a month prior announced that he and his wife had tested positive for COVID-19. Turnout hovered around 50 percent, and a series of safety protocols were in place during election day, though the Organization of American States reported lapses in physical distancing throughout the day. The executive director of the presidential committee tasked with managing the COVID-19 pandemic warned that he anticipates cases will surge in the weeks after the election. The vote was originally scheduled for May 17, but the country's Electoral Board pushed them back in mid-April to July 5. This is the second election held in the Dominican Republic during the pandemic, and the first general election in Latin America during the crisis. In fact, Medina acknowledged on April 22 that the government did not move to combat the spread of the coronavirus in early March when the first case was confirmed due to municipal elections scheduled for March 15.

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP forecasts: The Dominican Central Bank announced on August 3 that the country’s economy contracted by 8.5 percent in the first half of the year. Projections by the World Bank published in June forecast that the Dominican economy will contract by 0.8 percent this year, a decrease from the April forecast in which the Bank estimated that the economy would neither grow nor contract this year.
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policy: Between April 21 and April 28, the Dominican government, through its special agricultural fund (FEDA), approved $1.8 million in aid for the agrarian sector to boost production and cultivation. On April 23, the country’s Central Bank approved a series of monetary measures, including lowering three types of interest rates and instituting liquidity measures for the national currency. Prior to that, on March 26, the Central Bank approved roughly $1.5 billion for banks to have available for clients, and $622.4 million in credit for export industries. On April 29, the IMF approved $650 million in emergency assistance for the Dominican Republic.
  • Social programs: On March 25, Medina announced an economic package worth over $591 million to alleviate salary losses and food insecurity. The measures include a three-month moratorium on monthly minimum payments on credit cards as well as waivers of late fees. Starting on April 1 until May 31, the 811,000 families already subscribed to the country’s social welfare program Tarjeta de Solidaridad will receive a monthly payment ranging from $27 to $130 for foodstuffs and first aid products. The president added that 690,000 other families outside the social welfare program would also receive this assistance. An additional 70,000 homes were added to the program on April 23.
  • Other updates:

Ecuador

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Government response

Economic impact and measures

El Salvador

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Government response

  • Reopening planEl Salvador’s management of the pandemic has been marked throughout by institutional battles that predated COVID-19’s arrival in the country, and the same is true of the reactivation plan. The conflicts have even given rise to U.S. warnings to Bukele of aid cuts, per a September 3 Associated Press report. But there’s a reason why Bukele is confident about pushing back: 80 percent of Salvadorans deem his government’s pandemic management as “very good” and another 15 percent say it’s “good,” per a June 29 CID-Gallup poll. Still, despite resistance, on June 14 Bukele’s government issued Decree 31 ending the quarantine—which began on March 14—on June 16. But while the five-phase plan was initially set to start shortly after it was announced and run through August 20, the Bukele government repeatedly delayed entering phase 2 and reset subsequent phase dates. With no legal clarity around reactivation, the country proceeded to a full reopening on August 24. Below are highlights of the conflict over the reopening plan:
    • Despite various plans presented, El Salvador’s complete reopening of the economy began August 24. The Bukele government’s July 30 Decree (number 32) sought to reschedule reopening dates, but on August 7, the Supreme Court declared the decree unconstitutional due to its limits on rights, saying the move requires a measure from the legislature to enforce. On August 10, Bukele said of the Court: “If I were a dictator, I would have shot them all. You save 1,000 lives in exchange for five.” The court’s ruling allowed for Decree 32 to extend until August 23 to give the legislature and the president time to come to agreement, which did not happen, and the Bukele government confirmed on August 22 that—with no legislation in place to prohibit economic activities—reopening would proceed two days later.
    • On August 19, the Supreme Court overturned Bukele’s veto of a legislative proposal approved June 12 that called for implementation of a four-phase reopening plan starting June 16 and ending July 6. Bukele responded to the decision by saying: “What do we do now? Go back in time?” and called the decision “inconsequential.”
    • On June 24, the Bukele government submitted a proposal to the National Assembly for a new 15-day state of exception to restrict certain rights as a containment measure—despite a reopening plan being put in place. Different from a state of emergency, the prior state of exception expired in April (see “Mitigation Measures” below). On June 29, Alabí said that periods of states of exception could alternate with periods of economic reactivation. On June 30, legislators said that, rather than a state of exception, they were assessing a plan for controlled quarantines focused on areas with high rates of contagion or mortality. However, on July 4, the executive branch threatened to veto local-level states of exception, saying doing so would be unconstitutional and restrict human rights.
    • As of June 17, El Salvador’s Constitutional Court was considering at least three petitions that challenge Bukele’s Decree 31 on the grounds that it restricts constitutional rights related to freedoms of movement and transportation. Meanwhile, the president, while announcing the aforementioned decree, complained that his government had developed a prior law in accordance with an agreement made with the Constitutional Court, only to have the Court deem it unconstitutional. Both the Court and the National Assembly responded by denying having come to such agreements during meetings in recent months with Bukele. Bukele also had suggested that he had held a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Ronald Johnson about the law surrounding the quarantine. The Embassy denied having authorized any laws and said it respected El Salvador’s sovereignty. On June 8, El Salvador’s Constitutional Court declared two laws, a cabinet resolution, and 11 executive decrees unconstitutional and prohibited both the executive branch and the National Assembly from continuing to publish decrees that use the argument of preventing COVID-19 as reason for violating the Constitution. On June 20, Bukele sent a letter to the Assembly demanding it restore powers he said the Court had removed.  
    • On June 6, Bukele made good on his promise to veto a May 30 measure by the Legislative Assembly that sought to reopen business activities on June 8.
  • Mitigation measures: El Salvador began to implement containment measures before the first confirmed case. The legislature first approved both a state of emergency and a state of exception on March 14, though the state of exception, which raised concerns due to the suspension of constitutional rights, expired on April 12. For most of the period since those first steps were taken, there have been battles over extensions. Below is a on overview of milestones along the way:
    • With a state of emergency having expired at midnight on May 16, Bukele’s government declared a 30-day extension without the legislature’s approval on May 17, basing the decision on a 2005 constitutional measure allowing the president to decide in the case that the legislature cannot meet—though the Assembly was scheduled to do so. The Attorney General’s office filed a challenge with the Supreme Court, which, on May 18, declared the extension to be unconstitutional. Bukele then threatened—and then made good on the promise—to veto a congressional measure passed May 18 that extended the country’s quarantine for no more than 15 days and, among other things, required companies to set public health protocols for reopening. With that measure dead in the water, the Assembly spent the week of May 25 drafting the later-vetoed legislation but hit various obstacles, including Bukele’s resistance to transparency measures imposed by the Assembly.
    • On May 10, the presidency published a decree with seven modifications to the stricter quarantine measures Bukele announced May 5 and that began May 7. The updates sought to address concerns about unconstitutional measures in two prior decrees. The modifications included allowing health workers to use public transportation; letting police, the military, and medical workers make purchases and conduct bank transactions without showing identification; and the establishment of a call center to attend emergency calls and handle purchases of medications. The initial set of new rules, which the National Assembly paved the way for when it passed a quarantine law early in the morning of May 5, allowed Bukele to decree that Salavadorans can only leave their homes twice a week to buy food and medicine within the towns where people reside. On May 7, the presidency added on to the restrictions by prohibiting public transportation, taxis, and ubers, thereby severely limiting movement in a country where 80 percent of the population uses public buses for transport.
    • On April 29, Bukele vetoed a transitional law passed April 17 by the National Assembly that sought to fulfil an April 15 Supreme Court resolution safeguarding the rights of those who are detained for violating the national quarantine and subject to the punitive measures outlined in an April 14 executive order. Bukele’s executive order required people to allow health officials into their homes to evaluate sanitation measures, while those who violate the national quarantine are subject to 30 days of controlled quarantine. In addition, it required those driving without a justified reason to submit their vehicles for disinfection. Also on April 29, Bukele vetoed a law designed to aid health professionals by, among other things, providing them with life insurance. The Assembly had already sought once to bypass the president’s prior veto on this measure on April 23. 
    • On April 12, Bukele announced it would be obligatory for people to wear masks in the street and that people who drive vehicles who do not have the right to do so could be stripped of both their licenses and cars. The latter measure contradicted an April 8 Supreme Court ruling that annulled an earlier order by Bukele to seize vehicles. The Court also annulled Bukele’s April 6 detention measure, ordered in conjunction with his April 6 announcement that the country’s quarantine would be extended for a month and that the armed forces and police should “get harsher with people in the street” and detain them for 30 days for not following quarantine rules.
  • Travel and border restrictionsAn August 17 Associated Press article covers El Salvador’s plans to reopen airports, beginning with international connections on September 4 and domestic flights on September 19. A full restoration of air travel is anticipated for October 4. Prior to the new dates, the San Salvador international airport was slated to begin accepting commercial flights starting August 6, but in early July the presidency delayed the date until August 18. The airport has been closed since March 16, before which Bukele banned foreign travel into the country, except for residents and diplomats, while returning Salvadorans were required to be isolated for 30 days. On May 29, El Faro reported that it had uncovered that four deportees from the United States ended up testing positive in El Salvador. While officials in neighboring Guatemala have said a large portion of deportees are arriving infected with the coronavirus, El Salvador’s government has defended Washington and said it has not found that deportees have been infected. In March, El Salvador suspended deportation flights from Mexico and the United States, but quickly lifted the ban.
  • School closings and restrictions: The Education Ministry announced August 19 that schools and universities will remain closed until at least December 31 and that, in the meantime, virtual education will take place via internet, radio, and television. Bukele initially ordered all schools and universities to close on March 11 for 21 days. With quarantine extensions, schools remained closed and classes transitioned to virtual sessions on May 25.
  • Other updates:
    • On May 27, the president said he plans to push for a reform that would completely overhaul the country’s governmental structure. “We have the support of 97 percent of the population,” said Bukele, who had an approval rating of 92.5 percent, per a poll published May 24 by La Prensa Gráfica. The president also said “the majority of legislators are delinquents” for failing to come to an agreement about an extension of an emergency decree related to the pandemic. He made the comments after a May 27 meeting with union leaders, who put themselves at the service of the president to pressure the Assembly, potentially through protests, but also by bringing a case against both the legislature and the Supreme Court to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) over the two government branches’ blocking of Bukele’s latest emergency decree. Bukele had promised on May 20 to file the suit, but the head of the IACHR responded that the Commission cannot hear a case in which one branch of government sues another.
    • Bukele said on May 26 that he is using hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug endorsed by Trump. The president, who noted the drug is no longer part of the country’s health protocols to treat the pandemic, said he is taking it as a preventative measure. 
    • Per a May 21 ElSalvador.com report, the U.S. State Department sent a memorandum to the U.S. Congress in which it determined that El Salvador has met conditions to continue receiving aid but cautioned about Bukele’s lack of transparency, attacks on the press, and efforts to weaken institutions amid the pandemic. On May 18, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador called on the three branches of El Salvador’s government to reduce confrontation. On June 15, a date that marks 157 years of bilateral relations, the U.S. ambassador announced $5 million in aid for El Salvador, with $3 million for food and $2 million for hygiene kits to help those affected by COVID-19 and Tropical Storm Amanda. This sum is on top of more than $73 million in aid since March 2020 to help mitigate the effects of both emergencies.
    • The wear and tear on El Salvador’s institutions has not escaped international attention. On May 19, the UN secretary general urged the Bukele government to take legal routes to combat the pandemic, and to “act in a responsible manner with respect for human rights, democratic institutions, and the rule of law.” This came after a May 16 interview with France 24, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet raised similar concerns
    • On May 11, private sector leaders and academics quit a committee charged with overseeing the spending of $2 billion in pandemic-related funds after they said Bukele’s government failed to provide necessary information for them to effectively conduct an audit. 
    • On April 29, two U.S. congressmen—Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere Albio Sires (D-NJ)—wrote a letter urging Bukele not to use the pandemic as an excuse to discard constitutional and human rights in response to images of extreme measures being taken in Salvadoran prisons. El Salvador experienced a surge in violence between April 24 and April 26, with more than 50 murders taking place over the course of those three days. On April 26, Bukele said gangs were taking advantage of authorities’ focus on the pandemic and announced that police and armed forces had permission to use lethal force in cases of self-defense or defense of others. In addition, the presidency announced prisoners who are members of rival gangs would be mixed within cells and shared images of inmates packed together in human chains. Additionally, El Faro reported on April 24 that the country’s human rights body had uncovered evidence of illegal detentions and cruel treatment during the course of the country’s quarantine. 
    • In an April 21 tweet showing himself alone with a mask on and seated behind a giant desk, Bukele said rumors he had been kidnapped by extraterrestrials were unfounded. 
    • Bukele thanked Alibaba founder Jack Ma via Twitter on April 5 for a donation of 100,000 masks, more than 10,000 test kits, and five ventilators.  

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP forecastsPer a July 16 report by La Prensa Gráfica, ex-President of the country’s Central Reserve Bank Mauricio Choussy estimates the pandemic will result in a 9.1 percent GDP contraction for El Salvador this year, as well as 200,000 formal job losses. In June, the World Bank forecast that El Salvador would see a GDP contraction of 5.4 percent, meaning a worsening outlook from the Bank’s April forecast of a 4.3 percent contraction.
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policy: On May 5, the National Assembly approved a $1 billion plan to stimulate economic recovery that included measures such as loans for small enterprises and financing for business owners in the informal sector. On April 14, the IMF gave El Salvador a $389 emergency assistance loan—the first from the agency to the country in over 30 years, reports Latin Finance
  • Social programs:
    • The government and the private sector came to a $1 billion agreement on April 23 to provide basic foodstuffs to 1.7 million families; $600 million in low-interest loans to micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises; $90 million in credits to the informal sector; and delays on corporate tax payments and income taxes.
    • On March 21, in conjunction with imposing quarantine, the president announced a subsidy of roughly $300 per house for about 75 percent of Salvadoran households. He also threatened against corruption related to economic relief measures, saying 60 auditors would be reviewing disbursement and that “I will make a prisoner of anyone who touches even a cent.” In addition, he has frozen the prices of basic goods and warned against price gouging.
    • On March 18, Bukele announced a plan suspending utility, phone, and internet bills for three months to be paid back over the course of the subsequent two years. The president also froze payments on items such as mortgages, cars and motorcycles, and credit cards.
  • Other updates:

Guatemala

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Government response

  • Reopening plan: The country began its process on July 26, allowing for the reopening of businesses such as shopping centers and restaurants. That said, nearly half of Guatemalan municipalities remained on red alert at the start of August, a nightly curfew is still in place, and the Health Ministry warned of a potential increase in cases in August. The president previously mapped out a reopening plan on July 12, which involves four alert levels, color-coded from red (least safe) to green (safest), based on the number of active cases per 100,000 residents to determine when each town could reopen. Alerts will be assessed every 15 days. This came after he referred to reopening on July 8 by saying, “For the municipality that behaves the best, that has less contagion, the prize will be having greater levels of reopening each day.”
  • Mitigation measures: Guatemala’s containment measures are based on a state of calamity first announced on March 6 for 30 days and extended each month since then. On August 25, despite not having a quorum, the legislature approved the president’s request for another extension of the state of calamity for 30 more days. The state of calamity allows the government to enforce a range of measures over time, from preventing price gouging to halting gatherings. Measures include:
    •  On June 14, with confirmed cases rising above 300 per day, the president limited vehicular transit based on license plate numbers. The measure focused on departments with a high number of cases on most days and nationwide restrictions on the movement of cars and people on Sundays. He announced an extension of the measure on June 28 for 15 days with slightly modified rules.
    • On May 14, the president declared a total shutdown of the country on weekends, with only trucks transporting essential goods or people with grave illnesses permitted to circulate during that time. He then suspended the weekend lockdowns on May 31, and reduced overnight curfews to run from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. The initial curfew, which began on March 22 and ran nightly from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m., was extended on March 29 and April 12, with hours initially reduced on April 19
    • On May 10, with confirmed cases exceeding 1,000 for the first time, the president announced that markets would be closed in cases where social distancing is not practiced, shopping malls will be fined even for partial opening, people spreading rumors about the pandemic would be subject to punishment, hospitals that do not inform on coronavirus cases or violate protocols would face sanctions, and transit between the country’s departments would be restricted on a national level. 
    • On March 14, the Health Ministry suspended religious events, gatherings of more than 100 people, and Easter celebrations. Then, on March 17, the government prohibited events of any size, halted public transport, ended visits to institutions housing senior citizens, closed shopping malls, prohibited drinking after 5 p.m., and suspended visits to prisons. Shops had to close from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. except in the case of pharmacies and essential basic services. 
  • Travel and border restrictionsOn September 10, Giammattei issued a decree allowing for national and international flights starting September 18. Travelers entering the country will be required to show they had a negative coronavirus test in the 72 hours prior to traveling or face 14 days of isolated quarantine. Not all airlines will restart flights immediately, with some waiting until OctoberThe Guatemalan government closed all forms of borders on March 17, prohibiting entry by foreigners. Prior to that, Giammattei announced March 13 that he would restrict travel from the United States and Canada, thereby expanding an earlier travel ban involving any country where community transmission had occurred. On March 15, the Health Ministry added European foreign nationals to the list. His government had already imposed travel restrictions on people returning from China as early as January. The restrictions allowed Guatemalans to enter from countries on the travel prohibition list, but required them to self-quarantine.
    • A September 9 EFE article reports that the United States has deported roughly 5,200 Guatemalans back to their country since the start of the pandemic. On May 21, Giammattei said: “Guatemala is an ally of the United States, but I don’t believe the U.S. is an ally to Guatemala, because they don’t treat us like one.” On more than one occasion, the Guatemalan government, which has criticized the Trump administration for sending coronavirus-infected deportees to the country, announced it was halting deportation flights from the United States, but those flights have generally continued. Before that, on May 20, Giammattei asked Mexico for more health controls to ensure that Guatemalan deportees are not sent to the country with coronavirus.
  • School closings and restrictionsThe government first announced on March 14 that schools would close for three weeks but this time period was extended and, as of early August, the Education Ministry had yet to establish a full reopening plan.
  • Other updates:
    • The president sacked Health Minister Hugo Monroy on June 19 and replaced him with María Amelia Flores González, who has more than 30 years of public health experience and served in the administration of ex-President Óscar Berger. Monroy had faced criticism for a lack of transparency in his management of the health crisis. On June 16, Acción Ciudadana, a Guatemalan organization focused on transparency issues, called on country’s top prosecutor office to strip Monroy of political immunity for violating the right to access to information, given “systematic opacity” when it came to the delivery of coronavirus figures, particularly in terms of death counts. Monroy acknowledged technical errors in the counts. The new health minister began an audit of the counts on June 20, after which it launched a new COVID-19 data platform on July 18 that reflects the Ministry's ongoing efforts to review its counts.
    • Per a May 27 report, Guatemala is among five Latin American countries witnessing an accelerated increase in food prices. In early April, Guatemalans began taking to the streets with white flags, asking for money to alleviate hunger. After that, per the Guardian, a color-based flag system has come into use in which red flags represents a need for medicine while “black, yellow, or blue means that a woman, child or elderly person is in danger of violence.” 
    • The president completed his first 100 days in office on April 23. Of that time, 51 days were during this state of health calamity.

Economic impact and measures

Honduras

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Government response

  • Reopening plan: The country’s reopening plan began on June 8 according to the scheme drafted by the multisector body in charge of overseeing the country’s reopening strategy. The plan, announced on May 29, divides the country into three non-contiguous regions, each comprising municipalities based on their number of confirmed cases and population sizes. The first region, with those municipalities with the fewest cases, has a three-phase reopening while the third region, with the most, will go through five. Accordingly, 60 percent of workers returned to their posts in municipalities in the first region, 40 percent in the second, and 20 percent in the third. Below is a list of the phases that have gone into effect so far as well as any interruptions:
  • Mitigation measures: On September 6, the government extended the national curfew until September 13, following over a dozen previous extensions between April and August. Authorities restrict transit based on identification cards between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Curfew begins at 8 p.m. Since August 22, Hondurans are allowed to transit during the weekends based on identification card restrictions, after months of total weekend lockdowns. Below are other measures the Honduran government has taken:
    • The government launched an initiative on June 15 to deploy medical brigades to areas in the country that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19, where they will scout for possible cases and provide basic treatment.
    • Through an April 3 statement, Honduras’ emergency management system (SINAGER) called on local governments to identify plots of land that could be used for mass graves in case the number of deaths surpasses the country’s capacity to process corpses. SINAGER also announced that it was barring all wakes and in-hospital autopsies. 
    • A state of exception went into effect on March 16 for seven days that allowed for the suspension of constitutional rights for seven days. Before that decree, the country’s national risk management agency announced on March 15 the suspension of all commercial and work activities, any events regardless of number of people, and public transportation, and reminded people that failure to comply could result in criminal charges. 
    • On March 14, the government decreed a two-week long national red alert
  • Travel and border restrictions: Starting June 19, a four-phase reopening plan of airports went into effect. Under the first phase, domestic and international airlines had to submit biosecurity manuals to Honduras’ aeronautics agency. Phase two will involve the gradual reopening of domestic travel while phase three will involve international travel. Phase four will be reached when all operations have resumed. After a halt in the airport reopening process, the government announced on July 30 that domestic flights will resume on August 10 and international flights on August 17. Hernández announced the closing of all borders on March 15 with the exception of Honduran nationals and permanent residents.
    •  On August 10, the government announced a series of measures for incoming foreigners. Beyond having to fill out an epidemiological survey, foreigners will also have to present a negative molecular or rapid test result done up to 72 hours prior to their arrival in Honduras. Passengers who fail to meet these requirements will be examined by health personnel at the airports. 
    • When it comes to deportation flights, such flights have continued in spite of a March 10 suspension by the Honduran government. Authorities announced that, as of April 29, Honduras had four temporary isolation centers that can accommodate up to 1,050 deportees. Upon arrival, deportees will be required to undergo 14 days of mandatory quarantines in these centers.
  • School closings and restrictions: Schools and universities remain closed under the national curfew and it is unclear when they will reopen. Some classes are taking place virtually, but only 40 percent of Hondurans have access to the internet. Initially, the government announced that all public and private schools would be closed for two weeks starting March 13.
  • Other updates:

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP forecasts: June figures from the World Bank show that the Honduran economy will contract by 5.8 percent in 2020, a worse outlook compared to the Bank’s April projection of a 2.3 percent contraction. The country’s economy contracted by 1.3 percent in the first quarter of 2020, the Honduran Central Bank (BCH) announced on May 22.
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policy:  When it comes to international organizations, the Honduran Congress approved on July 29 a series of loans from multilateral organizations totaling more than $109 million. Prior to that, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration announced on April 21 that it approved a $200 million contingent credit line for Honduras to “strengthen the position and liquidity management capacity” of the bank. Before that, the World Bank approved a credit worth $119 million on April 10 and the IMF disbursed $143 million on March 31.
    • On the domestic front, the Honduran Congress approved a measure on July 16 that allows municipalities to use up to 45 percent of the $11.4 billion national budget to combat the pandemic.
    • Additionally, the BCH approved a package of monetary policies to free up $465.5 million, the bank announced April 7. Among the policies, the bank announced the reduction of mandatory investments in the national currency along with a reduction in the BCH credit interest rate. In an extraordinary session on April 2, the Honduran Congress approved a number of economic measures aimed at alleviating the country’s productive sector and supporting workers including the creation of a trust to guarantee loans for the agricultural sector and micro, small, and medium-sized businesses. The legislature also authorized the presidency to issue debt worth up to $2.5 billion.
  • Social programs: As of mid-June, 70 percent of furloughed workers have received bonuses as part of the Temporary Solidarity Contribution program, per government figures released June 10. Over 100,000 workers so far have received up to $241 for three months. On June 16, the government extended a measure until August 31 that delays income tax payments for micro, small, and medium-sized business employees, which account for 70 percent of the workforce in the country. The government announced on April 2 that it would also extend the sales tax payments deadline for these businesses until June 30.
  • Other updates:
    • Per a July 2 report from the UN World Food Program (WFP), more than 1.6 million Hondurans are suffering from food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis, a sharp increase from the less than one million food-insecure Honduras prior to the pandemic. The WFP will launch a humanitarian aid program in the country to help 250,000 food-insecure families for three months.
    • On May 30, the government announced that it had launched a price observatory with the backing of the Inter-American Development Bank. The entity will oversee purchases made during the pandemic to guarantee reasonable prices for goods being acquired by the Honduran government and will make the information accessible to the public via an online portal. 

Mexico

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Government response

  • Reopening planThe Mexican government announced its three-phase reopening plan to achieve a “new normal” on May 13, kicking off the first phase on May 18. That phase involved more than 300 towns dubbed “municipalities of hope” that had no confirmed coronavirus cases and were given the green light to reopen, although some governors and local authorities delayed these reopenings due to a concern over lack of testing and pandemic spread. The second stage, which ran from May 18 to 31, involved preparation to reopen the country. The third stage began June 1 and involves a regular assessment within each of the country’s 32 states to determine reopening of social, educational, and economic activities based on a color-coded system running from red (more restrictive) to green (less restrictive, schools and public spaces can reopen). Although the initial announcement suggested the reopening of sectors deemed essential—including construction, auto manufacturing, and mining—this became less clear on May 14 when a government gazette suggested these sectors would be preparing to reopen during this time but would not restart until June 1. The government made a change again on May 15 when it said auto sector plants could restart operations before June 1 in cases where health and safety requirements had been met.
    • For the week of September 7, the Health Ministry announced that just one state—Colima—remained at alert level red, 21 were at alert level orange, and 10 had reached yellow. In states at the orange level, businesses such as hotels and restaurants can reopen while following health protocols such as enforcing limited capacity. Yellow, the second-lowest level, allows for most economic activities to return to normal with some occupancy limits.
    • Mexico City was downgraded to orange on June 29. Although Mexico has kept testing levels at a relatively low level, Sheinbaum announced June 10 that, starting in July, the capital would conduct 100,000 tests per month, thereby increasing the daily testing average in the city by 145 percent. Mexico City has the largest number of cases and deaths in the country when compared to the other 31 states. On June 13, López Obrador released a decalogue outlining how to prepare for the “new normal,” with recommendations including staying informed about the state of health in the country, remaining optimistic, avoiding junk food, exercising, and seeking out a spiritual—even if not religious—path. On June 14, the president released a video saying the most difficult part of the pandemic was over, even though, on June 10, the WHO warned that Mexico is facing its “most dangerous moment." On July 12, the president again said the pandemic is on the decline in Mexico. On the same day, the country surpassed Italy to become the country with the fourth-highest coronavirus death toll worldwide.  
    • In keeping with the reactivation plan, López Obrador restarted his domestic travels on June 1. He made the first international trip of his presidency on July 7 when he headed to the United States for an official meeting with Trump to celebrate the July 1 implementation of the USMCA trade deal. Early in pandemic days, López Obrador’s lax approach to the virus drew concern from some observers, particularly in March, when the president continued to spend weekends traveling through Mexico and shared videos on social media in which he could be seen making physical contact with supporters. He subsequently changed his tone, and, on April 15, the office of the president announced that López Obrador would suspend his tours
  • Mitigation measures: May 31 marked the last day of Mexico’s National Period of Healthy Distancing ahead of the June 1 start of a “new normal” and staggered reactivation of the economy. However, López Obrador indicated on June 1 that a new outbreak could lead to new periods of social distancing. Below is a timeline of mitigation efforts:
    • On May 3, López-Gatell clarified that Mexico is no longer following the Sentinel Surveillance technique, which focuses on monitoring over widespread testing, given that the country entered Phase 3 on April 21. Instead, Mexico has shifted to a method based on hospital occupancy and available beds.
    • The government announced on April 21 that the country had entered Phase 3, when there would be a rapid increase in cases and hospitalizations. López-Gatell indicated that social distancing measures implemented in Phase 2 would continue and he urged all companies engaged in non-essential work that had not yet shut down to do so.
    • On the evening of March 30, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard declared a national health emergency. This came as López-Gatell announced suspension of all non-essential activities, no gatherings of more than 50 people in the case of essential sectors, and self-quarantine for people over 60 and at-risk health populations. Ebrard clarified that the emergency measure is not a state of exception involving armed authorities and that companies that avoided paying workers or defied rules could face sanctions. On the morning of March 31, López-Gatell shared a list of essential services, which range from tax collection to elderly care centers to supermarkets. 
    • On March 24, the government declared that the country had entered phase 2 of the epidemic after the WHO categorized it among countries with community transmission. The government suspended public and private gatherings of 100 people or more. In addition, the Finance Ministry said it would provide roughly $180 million to the Defense Ministry and Navy for measures such as expanding hospitalization capacity, coordinating with states and municipalities, and deploying thousands of health professionals. On the following day, López-Gatell said the federal government would stop all non-essential operations.
    • On March 20, the Health Ministry revealed a new character, Susana Distancia, to illustrate how far apart people should stay from each other. Her name is a play on words: su sana distancia, or “your healthy distance.” 
  • Travel and border restrictions: U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau tweeted on September 8 that the State Department lowered its coronavirus-related travel warning for Mexico from Level 4 (don’t travel) to Level 3 (reconsider travel). Mexico is the top international destination for U.S. travelers. Border restrictions remain in place, with Mexico and the United States initially announcing restrictions on non-essential crossings, which don’t apply to commerce, on March 20. Prior extensions were announced on April 20, May 19,June 16, and July 14, with the last announcement coming on August 14 through September 21.
    •  Mexico’s immigration agency reported on April 26 that it had nearly emptied its detention centers and that the total number of migrants still being held had been reduced to just over 100 after deporting 3,653 people to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.  
  • School closings and restrictionsThe education minister announced on August 3 that schools will not reopen for the August 24 start of the academic year and will remain closed until alert level green is reached. Instead, students will be taught through a televised study program that will broadcast by major Mexican television networks. The government said that 94 percent of Mexican families have televisions, and that students without access to television or internet will access the programming via radio. The country’s social security system announced the reopening of daycare centers starting July 9, with those in “red zones” at 25 percent capacity and only serving the children of essential workers. 
  • Other updates:

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP forecasts: Mexico’s GDP contracted 18.7 percent year on year in the second quarter of 2020, marking its biggest tumble since it began being registered in 1993 and the fifth consecutive quarter of GDP contraction. The Finance Ministry delivered its 2021 budget proposal, offering little stimulus while forecasting an 8 percent GDP contraction for 2020 and 4.6 percent growth in GDP for 2021. Both figures are optimistic compared to other predictions. On August 26, the Bank of Mexico changed its GDP outlook for the country, forecasting that the best possible outcome would be an 8.8 percent contraction this year while the worst-case scenario would be a 12.8 percent contraction. In either case, the hit would be the worst the country has seen since 1932. On May 27, the Bank spelled out three different scenarios with the contraction forecasted between 4.6 percent to 8.8 percent. At that time, the Bank suggested that as many as 1.4 million jobs could be lost with an 8.8 percent contraction. On June 24, the IMF predicted a 2020 GDP contraction of 10.5 percent. This marks a sharp decline from the agency’s April forecast, when it had the contraction at 6.6 percent. On May 21, the president announced that the country will start measuring an alternative GDP index that takes into account areas such as well-being, social inequality, and happiness.
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policy:
    • The austerity-focused López Obrador government has resisted a broad stimulus package. A June 16 Financial Times report found that Mexico’s microloan program, which initially offered 1 million credits on March 24 and has been expanded to 4 million, had distributed about 1.5 million credits and with no loan larger than $1,100. As of May 22, López Obrador said his administration had given out $1.9 billion in microloans to homeowners, the formally and informally employed, and SMEs, with the goal to award $13 billion in credits overall. 
    • On April 26, a business association known as the Mexican Business Council announced a private-sector agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank to help give loans of up to $12 billion to about 30,000 micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises amid the pandemic. During his April 27 press conference, López Obrador expressed suspicion of the pact, saying, “I don’t like the way they come to an agreement and want to impose their plans. Things aren’t like they used to be.” Also during the morning conference, the labor minister named companies that had not complied with work suspension rules.
    • On April 22, López Obrador announced an 11-point economic plan amid the pandemic. Measures include pay cuts of as much as 25 percent for high-level public workers, the elimination of 10 deputy minister posts, and a commitment to austerity. His administration’s social programs and infrastructure projects—such as the Dos Bocas oil refinery, an airport expansion, and a train system—will continue. The president had previously confirmed that these major projects would go ahead in an April 5 speech.
    • In an extraordinary session on April 21, Banco de México unveiled a $31 billion stimulus and cut its benchmark interest rate by 50 points to 6.0 percent. Taken together with prior measures, the moves amount to 3.3 percent of the 2019 GDP and will cover financing for banks to boost credit for small- and medium-sized businesses, as well as implement hedge transactions to decrease the peso’s volatility. The Bank had previously taken the same step on March 20, when it trimmed the rate to 6.50 percent.
  • Social programs:
  • Other updates:

Nicaragua

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Government response

  • Reopening plan: The country has not gone into lockdown and so does not have a reopening strategy. 
  • Mitigation measures: Ortega set a new record for being absent after going missing from the public eye for 38 days between June and July. The president re-emerged in the public eye on July 20 at an event commemorating the 41st anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution. Ortega, wearing a face mask for the first time during the pandemic, praised his administration’s efforts during the crisis but did not announce any mitigation measures. The president previously went missing for 34 days between March and April, after which he delivered a televised address saying that Nicaragua hadn’t “stopped working, because if this country stops working, it dies.” Ortega’s administration has not instituted extensive mitigation measures and has even promoted large events. As a result, civil organizations in the country and health organizations across the region have taken the following steps:
    • The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has repeatedly called on the Nicaraguan government to provide them with precise and transparent information regarding contagion within the country. Moreover, PAHO requested the Ortega administration that it allow a group of representatives from the organization into Nicaragua to strengthen the country’s monitoring strategy and mitigation response, according to a July 20 report by the Nicaraguan newspaper Confidencial. The government has not approved their request.
    • In a June 10 statement, leaders from Nicaragua’s private sector called on the government to institute 14 health, economic, and social measures to mitigate the effects of the pandemic in the country. 
    • Before that, in a June 1 letter, over 30 medical associations in Nicaragua warned that the “exponential increase” in COVID-19 cases in the country has already led to the collapse of both the public and private healthcare systems. The group urged Nicaraguans to come together in a voluntary national four-week quarantine to slow contagion.
    • Since then, Nicaragua’s private sector and the Pan-American Health Organization both joined the call for a voluntary quarantine and stricter health measures in mid-June. A month earlier, in a televised May 1 message, Ortega denounced stay-at-home and social distancing orders as “extreme” and “radical” measures that would “destroy the country.” 
    • Some of the minimal mitigation steps that the government has taken include cleaning and disinfecting some street markets and public transportation units in mid-April. Moreover, per a May 6 report by Confidencial, the government began rotating public employees, asking some to work from home and sending others on vacation to avoid contagion. Murillo stated in mid-April that health authorities had been visiting households across the country to verify their sanitation measures and give each family information about preventive measures. Before authorities confirmed the country’s first case, Ortega’s administration announced in early March that it would ban wakes and funerals for those who die of the virus.
  • Travel and border restrictions: After they suspended their services in May, most of the airlines that operate in the country announced on July 24 that they will not resume flights in and out of Nicaragua until September.
  • School closings and restrictions: The Education Ministry called on public schools to open on July 21 to start the second semester of the school year. The ministry previously ordered schools to open on April 20 to finish the first semester, though attendance remained low. Schools were initially closed for two weeks in mid-April. Starting in May, a number of universities began offering some courses virtually while others have taken steps to cut the number of students and faculty present on campus any given day by assigning them days of the week. 
  • Other updates:
    • An Inter-American Dialogue poll conducted between July 1 and 9 found that 60 percent of Nicaraguans qualify Ortega’s management of the pandemic as “terrible,” with 50 percent of Nicaraguans considering COVID-19 to be the most urgent problem the country faces.
    • According to a June 16 report by Confidencial, the government has concealed hundreds of coronavirus-related deaths in the first weeks of June. Similarly, a May 12 report by the Associated Press found that Nicaragua’s government was actively trying to conceal the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the country by burying patients with symptoms similar to COVID-19 quickly after they die––at times within hours of their deaths and without notifying family members. 
    • Though Nicaragua and Costa Rica reached an agreement on May 30 to reopen their shared border and allow the passage of foreign cargo, Nicaragua did not reopen its borders until May 31. The new agreement outlines that truckers may transit into Costa Rica but will only be allowed five days within the country’s borders. Ortega had ordered on May 18 the suspension of merchandise transited into Nicaragua from Costa Rica in response to that country’s decision to partially close down its borders to foreign cargo earlier that day, leaving 1,000 Nicaraguan truckers stranded. Costa Rica began testing Nicaraguan truckers entering its country on May 8 and said 61 had tested positive when it announced its border closure. 

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP projections: June projections from the World Bank show that Nicaragua’s economy will contract by 6.3 percent this year, down from the Bank’s April prediction of a 4.3 contraction. In a May report, The Economist Intelligence Unit forecast that Nicaragua’s economy will contract by as much as 6.5 percent, after previously forecasting a 1.5 percent contraction in a January report.
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policy: The Inter-American Development Bank announced on August 1 that it approved a loan for Nicaragua totaling $43 million, one that will be strictly supervised by multilateral organizations like the Pan-American Health Organization. The Central Bank of Nicaragua instituted four monetary measures on June 22, including reducing the country’s reference rate, and injected $116 million into the country’s economy. As of May 10, Nicaragua’s government had received at least $15.3 million in economic aid to mitigate the pandemic’s effects from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, Taiwan’s government, and the Pan American Health Organization. However, the government has not announced any economic measures in relation to these funds. 
  • Social programs: None have been announced during the pandemic.
  • Other updates:

Panama

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Government response

  • Reopening plan: President Laurentino Cortizo first announced the six-stage reopening process on May 11, and phase one began on May 13 with the resumption of technical services. Panama entered the second phase of its reopening process on June 1, under which the country has a nightly curfew between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. As part of the second stage, infrastructure projects and non-metallic mining restarted while sites of social activity, including churches and sports facilities, reopened at 25 percent capacity. The use of face masks is mandatory. The Health Ministry announced on June 24 that the next four reopening phases would vary by province and be determined based on contagion rate and size of population in each area. See below for further reopening measures:
    • The government announced August 25 a new plan to continue the country’s reopening process. Come September 7, all construction-related activities and industries will reopen. Then, by September 28, restaurants, beaches, retail stores, and national tourism will resume. The plan’s last phase will come October 12 when international tourism will resume and the national curfew will be lifted. 
    • On August 17, aspects of the third and fourth reopening phases went into effect nationally. On said date, wholesale reopened with home delivery and limited contact pickup options, whereas retail will reopen with capacity restrictions. Beauty salons, car dealers, NGOs, and private construction operations also resumed. Prior to being instituted on a national scale, most of these measures went into effect on July 27 in three provinces with low contagion rates. Restrictions were further lifted nationally on August 24, per an August 18 announcement by the government, including those on non-contact sports.
    • Minera Panamá—originally scheduled to reopen under phase six of the country’s reopening plan—has been given the green light to reopen, the government announced July 7. The copper mine has had to suspend over 4,000 worker contracts since the government ordered it to close in early April. Before closing down, around 200 workers tested positive for COVID-19 and five died.
    • On May 10, Panama’s Health Ministry published a number of health and safety guidelines that both the public and private sectors had to meet before reopening began.
  • Mitigation measures: As part of the government’s new reopening plan (see above), Panama will have new mitigation measures come September 14. On said date, a national curfew will go into effect from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and there will be a complete lockdown on Sundays. Panama’s movement restrictions based on gender will also be lifted nationally on September 14. The national curfew will be lifted October 12 along with most other remaining restrictions. Previous measures include:
    • Starting July 24, five out of the country's 10 provinces were placed under a stricter quarantine. These provinces have a weekly curfew between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m., and some have a total weekend curfew. Additionally, movement restrictions based on gender and a citizen’s national identity card number or a foreigner’s passport were reinstated. The latter measure, however, ended on August 24 while gender restrictions continued. Both of these movement restrictions were lifted nationally on June 1 as part of the country’s reopening plan after two months of being in effect. Panama was the first country in the region to institute restrictions based on gender.
    • The Health Ministry announced on July 14 that starting July 20 the country will have a schedule dictating what time workers from the private and public sector must report to their jobs each morning. Private sector employees will have until 8 a.m. while public sector employees will have until 9 a.m.
    • Between April and May, Panama went through at least five weekends of complete quarantine that were mandated by Cortizo. 
    • Panama’s national quarantine began on March 25 without a specified end date. Before that, on March 12, Cortizo announced a state of emergency, which granted the government 180 days starting on March 13 to mobilize up to $50 million to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.  
  • Travel and border restrictions: All incoming international flights are suspended until at least September 21, the government announced on August 21. However, starting August 17, Panamanian nationals and permanent residents are allowed back into the country. The government initially decreed the suspension on March 22 and extended it five times. Before the total suspension, the government monitored incoming flights from China, Italy, Iran and South Korea in early March. As of March 16, only nationals and foreign residents are allowed entry, with mandatory quarantine for 14 days.
  • School closings and restrictions: Public and private schools resumed remote classes on July 20 via a virtual platform launched on June 22. According to Education Ministry figures released August 10, three in ten Panamanian students don’t have access to remote classes. The government initially decreed a national temporary suspension of classes in both public and private institutions from March 11 to March 20, after which the Education Ministry extended the suspension multiple times.
  • Other updates:

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP forecasts: Both April and June projections by the World Bank show that Panama stands to see a 2 percent GDP contraction.
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policy: On May 27, the government extended until July 17 its grace period to pay the income tax that was due on March 31. The extension first went into effect on March 20. The government announced on May 26 that it had restructured its budget by $2 billion to free up funds for the government’s response to the pandemic. In the international front, Panama has relied on the following economic policies:
    • On the international front, Cortizo announced on April 13 that the Panamanian government had secured $1.3 billion in credit lines from multilateral organizations. Panama received $500 million from the IMF and an equal amount from the World Bank to invest in employment, health, and security, and the final $300 million from the Inter-American Development Bank for medium and small companies and the agricultural sector. 
    • On March 26, the Panamanian government sold $2.5 billion in sovereign bonds in the cross-border market in order to divert funds from the country’s budget to combat the pandemic. Panama was the first country in the region to issue sovereign bonds amid the pandemic.
  • Social programs: On June 30, Cortizo signed a measure instituting a moratorium on a number of payments—including mortgages, a variety of loans, and credit cards—until December 31, 2020. The president had previously reached an agreement with the Panama Banking Association on May 4 to put in place such a moratorium, when Cortizo also signed a measure to suspend payments on public services—including electricity, internet, and phone bills—for the next four months.
    • Before that, Cortizo launched Panama Solidario on March 27, an initiative to collect and distribute funds and resources to Panama’s poorest communities. After protesters across Panama complained they had not received any aid from the program as of mid-April, the president announced April 29 that the digital platform for Panama Solidario would be available starting April 30, through which funds began to be disbursed in May.
    • A March 20 executive order mandates that companies suspend worker contracts if a business has to temporarily close, meaning that employees will not be paid but won’t necessarily be fired. Figures from Panama’s Ministry of Labor and Workforce Development show that, as of April 15, nearly 50,000 Panamanians saw their employment contracts suspended in one month. 
  • Other updates:
    • In May, crossings through the Panama Canal––which is used by 6 percent of global trade––dropped by 21 percent due to decreases in international trade, according to figures from the Panama Canal Authority (APC). The ACP announced on March 25 that ships attempting to cross through the Canal had to meet a number of safety requirements, including that all aboard each ship be healthy.
    • Moody’s projected in mid-April that Panama’s public debt will expand to 53 percent of the country’s GDP with the deficit growing 2.2 percent.  

Paraguay

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Government response

  • Reopening planOn September 5, the government extended Phase 4 of intelligent quarantine nationwide through September 20, after most of the country moved into this advanced stage of the progressive quarantine plan on July 20. Yet some high-infection areas remain under stricter rules (see mitigation measures.) Phase 4, which most of the national territory is in, permits government and corporate offices to operate at 50 percent capacity, events with up to 20 people, outdoor exercise for groups of up to four people, and most non-essential business to operate from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. A curfew remains in effect from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. Phase 3, which began on June 23, permitted sit-in dining at restaurants and scheduled gym visits to resume, both at a limited capacity, as well as in-person classes in high schools with a cap of 10 students per class, while all other levels of schooling remain suspended indefinitely.
  • Mitigation measures:
    • On September 5, the government extended the period of “social quarantine” in Asunción, Central regions, and the Alto Paraná region through September 20, including stricter health guidelines including a curfew between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. while medium- and long-distance public transport will not operate during the weekends, and non-essential services may operate between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. without opening any common areas. Alcohol sales will also be restricted to fewer hours. On August 29, the government had also announced the western district of Boquerón to return to Phase 3 of intelligent quarantine through September 6.
    • On August 12, the Health Ministry announced that an additional 1,420 health professionals were trained in the National Health Institute to augment the number of those able to serve in intensive care units, as COVID-19 case numbers continue to increase. The Health Ministry’s National Blood Program on July 8 called for Paraguayans who have recovered from the virus to participate in trials to donate blood plasma to help allow active cases to combat the disease.
    • On April 29, the government released a new online tool, MapaInversiones, by which the public can access government information on how it’s using resources amid the health emergency, part of a transparency campaign supported by Inter-American Development Bank. On April 21, the government announced the completion of construction on two contingency hospitals to house COVID-19 patients, adding 200 more ICU beds between them, a little less than a month after Abdo Benítez originally announced the $800,000 project on March 24. On March 16, the presidency declared a health emergency in the entire country under Decree 3456. 
  • Travel and border restrictionsOn September 7, the government approved a controlled air traffic protocol announced at the end of August for “bubble” flights to operate between Paraguay and Uruguay. Residents of both countries must present a negative PCR test taken a maximum of 72 hours prior to flying. On April 24, the government announced that the March 24 border closure decree is extended indefinitely, including the suspension of incoming commercial and private flights, while 13 border stations remain in operation for the transport of goods and merchandise, as well as the exit of foreign nationals.
  • School closings and restrictions: On April 27, Abdo Benítez announced the suspension of school classes until December. School closures were first announced on March 10.
  • Other updates

Economic impact and measures

  • Social programs:
    • Due to Alto Paraná’s increase in cases becoming the country’s hotspot, with 40 percent of all confirmed cases and a third of the country’s COVID-19 deaths as of August 3, the government announced it would begin issuing money transfers worth roughly $72 to over 28,000 low-income inhabitants across the department’s 22 districts to provide economic relief. The Finance Ministry revealed on June 17 that the government has distributed $1.2 million to different programs under the March 16 health emergency to fight the pandemic, with $243 million of that sum going into health, education, and security services in April and May. 
    • On July 14, the Social Welfare Institute head announced that starting July 17 those who lost their jobs during the pandemic may collect a third wave of subsidy payments as part of the $100 million social welfare emergency program announced on March 26.  In an expansion to the original decree, this measure now includes workers who earn more double the minimum salary. On May 13, the Development Ministry announced it would distribute an additional $4.8 million in the form of direct debit deposits to roughly 165,229 Paraguayans via the Tekoporã social welfare program, after on March 25, the government announced the Ñangareko program, involving money transfers for food and hygiene products to roughly 33,000 families whose income has been affected by quarantine.

Peru

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Government response

Economic impact and measures

Puerto Rico

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Government response

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP forecasts: The FOMBPR warned on May 26 that the island is likely to experience a deficit in the coming years as its surplus may plunge by up to 65 percent between 2020 and 2032, leaving the government unable to meet its debt obligations as the island attempts to restructure a debt exceeding $70 billion.
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policy: Vázquez signed into law on June 14 a second package of economic measures to mitigate pandemic-related economic fallout. The new law automatically extends commercial licenses and permits by six months and eliminates for three months the 4 percent tax on professional services. The governor announced the island’s first economic package on March 23, worth $787 million. That one, which at the time of its announcement was the largest one presented by U.S. states and territories, included a 90-day moratorium on a number of payments and an incentive of $1,500 to businesses with 50 employees or fewer that had to close and don’t qualify for federal aid. The FOMBPR approved a revised fiscal plan for the island on May 27 that temporarily suspends all cuts to the government’s budget. 
  • Social programs: The U.S. territory received $2.2 billion on April 22 as part of the CARES Act, the $2 trillion federal economic relief package.
    • Puerto Ricans are eligible to receive the federal economic incentive of $1,200 available to most U.S. citizens under the CARES Act. In the case of Puerto Rico, the local Treasury Department could not disburse funds from the federal stimulus until the U.S. Treasury approved the island’s plan for distribution on May 1.
    • Vázquez unveiled her administration’s plan for the federal funds during a press conference on May 14, outlining dozens of programs focused around three pillars: strengthening the government’s response to the pandemic, reviving and protecting the island’s economy, and maintaining “continuity in government operations.” On April 13, Vázquez signed a resolution to place a moratorium on personal loans, car loans, mortgages, and credit cards until the end of June. The new measure, which is voluntary and up to each individual to use, also bars interest fees and other penalties in relation to these payments.

Uruguay

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Government response

  • Reopening planOn June 26, the government approved a protocol to reopen certain businesses starting June 29, such as hotels—where guests will have their temperature taken upon arrival, restaurants, bars, and cafés. This reopening will only occur under strict health guidelines, such as social distancing, mandatory use of face masks, and hand sanitizer. On June 4, the government announced a plan to reopen shopping malls starting June 9, except for those in the city of Rivera on the Brazilian border, with businesses and shoppers required to wear facemasks and follow social distancing and hygiene protocols.
  • Mitigation measures:
    • On August 18, the Ministry of National Defense alongside the Health Ministry prepared materials to install a COVID-19 testing laboratory in Rivera, the heavily affected border region with Brazil. The new lab—which aims to fortify health defense capacities for the north of Uruguay—will perform 200 daily tests, likely reaching up to 500, according to the national defense minister.
    • In light of an outbreak in Montevideo, President Luis Lacalle Pou announced in a July 21 press conference that while he would not roll back some opening measures that already are in effect, he was implementing stricter health guidelines to slow contagion, including banning private house parties and putting more buses in circulation in the capital to lessen crowding. Uruguay has been credited with acting swiftly to mitigate the outbreak, with the president announcing a health emergency on March 13 when the first cases were confirmed. While never establishing mandatory quarantine, the country enforced a high testing rate, which contributed to the slow rise in cases; by May 5, the government reached its objective of carrying out over 1,000 daily tests. On June 30, the country’s testing rate was 19.09 per one thousand people, the fourth highest region. On May 10, the Montevideo government also made the use of face masks on public transport mandatory. Previously, on March 17, the government announced the closing of stores and shopping malls
  • Travel and border restrictions: On August 18, the Tourism Ministry announced that Uruguay will reopen borders to incoming travelers from the European Union, as a “gesture of reciprocity” after Europe announced in June that out of all Latin American nationalities, only Uruguayans are allowed to enter via air travel. European travelers must still adhere to travel guidelines previously announced in July. On July 16, the government announced that nationals and foreigners entering the country must submit to a temperature test upon landing, as well as present a negative result from PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before traveling. They then must self-isolate for one week at home, wear a face mask when around others, and take a second test one week after entering the country. Previously, travelers could take their pre-travel test up to 72 hours before arriving. On March 25 the government announced the total closing of land, sea, and air borders.
    • On September 1, Uruguay and Brazil signed an agreement to continue mitigating contagion in border territories, this time with a focus on the cities of Artigas (Quaraí on Brazil side) and Bella Unión (Barra do Quaraí on Brazil side). The agreement involves PCR testing on both sides, mandatory use of face masks and social distancing, and capping the number of people allowed into commercial establishments. On May 25, Lacalle Pou announced measures agreed to with his Brazilian counterpart in the border city of Rivera. Uruguay’s Ministries of the Interior and Defense announced it would establish four check-points to reduce movement of vehicles and people across the border, and conduct 1,100 random tests. On May 13, the Minister of National Defense Javier García announced that the Armed Forces established 800 checkpoints and completed 2,300 patrols along the country’s border with Brazil in two months. The government first announced on May 5 it would increase health checks on the Brazilian border, after expressing concern over contagion levels in that country and recognizing that commercial activity in peripheral cities allows for daytime border crossings, despite the government having closed land borders with Brazil on March 22. 
  • School closings and restrictionsPer The Conversation’s grading of four countries that have reopened schools amid the pandemic, Uruguay beat Israel, Japan, and Sweden, receiving As for slow and phased reopening, masks and distancing in schools, and masks and distancing in communities. In an effort to encourage higher in-person school attendance, the government announced July 12 that starting August 3 all school levels and Universidad Tecnológica del Uruguay—a major public university in the capital—will increase the hours of in-person classes, moving away from scattered weekly schedules for groups of students five days a week, divided into morning and afternoon batches if necessary. On June 29, the government began phase three of school reopenings, announcing that over 200,000 more students returned to in-person classes across the country. This phase covers 230 schools, including 33 in the Brazilian border city of Rivera. After the city of Treinta y Tres experienced an outbreak, the government announced the suspension of all schools there until July 3. On June 15 the government began phase two with the resumption of in-person classes for 420,000 students returning to classes in 156 technical schools, 200 high schools, and over 1,000 public schools, after a three-month suspension.
  • Other updates:
    • On May 15, the Health Ministry signed a first-time cooperation agreement with two state health service providers, the Medical Providers Federation of the Interior and the State Health Services Administration, to reinforce care for the elderly, regardless of what health insurance they may have. Over one month earlier on April 17, Lacalle Pou announced the formation of a commission of experts led by the Director of the Planning and Budget Office Isaac Alfie to advise the government on a gradual exit strategy to the health emergency.
    • On April 17, the Electoral Court set the new date of September 27 for municipal elections for the 19 provinces, postponed from the original May 10 date.
    • In a move to address domestic dangers early on, on March 28, the government announced on March 28 measures to stop the rise of gender violence during social distancing, including an awareness campaign on social and mainstream media, a hotline for emergencies, and a protocol created alongside the Health Ministry for personnel to detect possible instances of domestic violence.

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP forecasts: A June World Bank report projected Uruguay’s GDP to contract 3.7 percent in 2020, one whole point higher than the A World Bank semiannual April report projects projecting Uruguay’s GDP to contract 2.7 percent in 2020 this year, receding from a 0.2 percent expansion in 2019.
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policy: On April 29, the government announced an investment stimulus plan that includes new tax exemptions for large-scale investments. On March 24, the government announced it would disburse funds to 55,000 workers over 65 years old in both the public and private sectors as a way to make sure they stay at home. As one of the first economic measures taken by the government, on March 19 the Central Bank announced it would provide credit lines to companies of around $50 million, while working with multilateral organizations to augment this sum to up to $125 million.
  • Social programs:
    • On August 27, the Labor and Social Security Ministry created an unemployment subsidy for 90 days to complement existing benefit claims for workers filed from June 1 to July 31, given the magnitude of unemployment claims in those two months. On August 11, the government announced it will offer health care coverage for three months to an estimated 147,000 workers who stand to lose theirs between August 1 to October 31. On August 5, the Labor and Social Security Ministry announced an extension of unemployment benefits through November 13 for workers who’ve completely lost their jobs. For those who’ve lost partial work, they can receive benefits through September 30. On July 31, the government extended until August 31 a measure that protects the oldest working demographic. The measure includes a subsidy for workers over 65 years old worth 70 percent of their monthly salary with a cap of roughly $1,040, allowing them to stay in isolation for 30 more days. This is the third extension to the measure which was first announced in March. As an incentive for businesses to reintegrate employees, the Social Welfare Bank of Uruguay will contribute $114 monthly to employers from July 1 to September 30 for every employee reincorporated or hired. On June 10, the government had extended an unemployment subsidy until September 30 that was first announced on March 18 for employees who have been temporarily laid off, working between six and 19 days per month, or facing a 50 percent reduction in daily hours. Also, the Central Bank and the National Internal Audit agency will flexibilize credit loan payments for those who cannot pay, and the Mortgage Bank of Uruguay will delay debt payment deadlines.
    • On April 1, the Senate approved the COVID-19 Solidarity Fund, made up of loans from domestic and international financial institutions, to cover government disbursements during the health emergency. On March 26, the government also declared the creation of a Coronavirus Fund, drawn from the salaries of public workers who make over $1,800 monthly, and Lacalle Pou along with ministers and legislators will also give 20 percent from their own salaries. The contributions will be periodic for two months, and the measure is subject to extension. On March 19, the government announced the Social Development Ministry would receive $22 million to reinforce social programs, such as building refuge centers and extending salaries on the Social Uruguay Card, a government-funded resource for the most disadvantaged to access food and basic need products.
  • Other updatesOn April 16, the Central Bank announced monetary policy adjustments, including extensions to credit maturities, temporary reductions to bank reserves to stimulate credit lines, and temporary relaxation of stock market regulations. 

Venezuela

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Government response

Economic impact and measures

  • GDP forecasts: With its economy in freefall for several years now, neither the World Bank nor the IMF includes Venezuela in regular reports, citing lack of reliable data. That said, the IMF does put a rough estimate of a 15 percent contraction for 2020.
  • Fiscal stimulus and economic policy:
    • On August 20, the Venezuelan opposition announced that the U.S. Treasury had approved the transfer of monies seized from corrupt chavista officials to the Guaidó administration via the digital currency exchange AirTM. In an announcement that evening, Guaidó said that with the funds, his administration will distribute $300 to 62,000 health workers over the course of three months. Maduro initially blocked the platform in Venezuela, but AirTM was able to provide instructions to users for how to circumvent the block.
    • The Maduro government instituted price controls for 27 food products through the end of October in an effort to combat price speculation, Vice President Rodríguez announced April 25. The measure—which will affect Empresas Polar, the country’s largest food producer and one of the last large private companies in the country—comes in response to increased protests and looting of stores as health, food, and gasoline shortage crises converge.
    • Citing the pandemic as an accelerator for the migratory crisis and situation of migrants in their host countries, the European Union committed $158 million in immediate humanitarian aid for Venezuelan migrants in a meeting on May 26. Spain, which is contributing almost half of the funds, says it is prioritizing Colomba, Ecuador, and Peru as recipients for its monies. Additionally, the European Investment Bank approved $440 million worth in new credit lines for programs that attend to the migrants.
    • On March 17, the IMF denied a request by the Maduro government for a $5 billion emergency loan over the virus because there was “no clarity” as to who the country’s leader is—Maduro or Guaidó. The ask was a shift for Maduro, who derided the institution as recently as February.
    • On March 24, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Chile, called for an easing of global sanctions against a handful of countries, including Venezuela and Cuba, to allow for these countries to receive humanitarian and medical supplies. Speaking on a March 26 AS/COA panel, Carrie Filipetti of the U.S. State Department noted that Washington’s sanctions on Caracas do in fact include “carve-outs” for humanitarian assistance.
  • Social programs:
    • On March 22, Maduro announced that layoffs are prohibited through December 31, all residential and commercial rent payments will be suspended for six months, effective immediately, and that the government would help small- and medium-sized businesses make their payrolls. He also mentioned that interest payments on loans would be suspended for six months as well.
  • Other updates: On April 20, global oil prices fell again so far that, given the discounts state oil firm PDVSA’s been offering, the country is now losing money on its barrels. Over 95 percent of Venezuelan exports come from oil production, which is down about 75 percent from its peak at the turn of the century. One symbol of the collapse: by June, Venezuela—a founding member of OPEC with the world’s largest proven oil reserves—was only the sixth-largest oil producer in Latin America, after Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico.

*Editor's note: This article previously stated that an April 14 Brazilian measure involved relaxing labor provisions for employees between the ages of 29 and 55 years old. However, the measure applied to employees between 18 and 29 and over 55.

Ernesto Aguilar, Daniela Cobos, Lee Evans, Pía Fuentealba, Diogo Ide, Luisa Leme, Maria de Lourdes Despradel, Ragnhild Melzi, and Adán Toledo have contributed to this content.