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Where Is the Coronavirus in Latin America?

Coronavirus in Latin America

A worker produces hand sanitizer in Brazil. (AP)

June 04, 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.

What's the answer to the question in the title? Everywhere.

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.

Aside from the health risks, there will be an economic impact as well. On March 2, the OECD decreased global GDP growth expectations for the year by half a point to 2.4 percent. Prior to the epidemic, the IMF predicted 1.6 percent GDP growth for the region for 2020. In a perfect storm for economies, dropping oil prices have resulted in plunging Latin American markets and currencies.



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

In other parts of the Americas, as of June 1, 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

Economic impact and measures

  • On June 1, the government announced an additional payment of roughly $145 starting on June 8 to be rolled out for up to five weeks to about 9 million beneficiaries of the family emergency income payout program first announced in March to relieve vulnerable self-employed and informal workers amid the pandemic. On April 11, the government had reported that it certified close to 7.9 million self-employed and informal workers to receive the first payout of roughly $157 for the month.
  • 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 18, Fernández announced suspension of price increases for television, mobile, and internet services until August 31. The measure also includes more affordable prepaid and postpaid service plans with fixed rates until October 31.
  • On May 18, the government extended for another 60 days a decree, originally issued April 1, that prohibits companies from firing employees without just cause or due to downsizing.
  • On May 16, the Commerce Ministry extended for a second time a March 19 decree that caps prices for food and health-related products through June 30. On March 16 the Production Development Ministry established maximum prices for hygiene masks, thermometers, and hand sanitizers.
  • 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.”
  • A Central Bank poll released May 8 showed analysts estimating an economic contraction of 7 percent in 2020.
  • On May 5, the government expanded definitions for the Emergency Employment and Production Assistance 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 will 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 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.
  • On April 30, the government extended the date of suspension for bank accounts until June 30 for those unable to clear bounced checks or pay fees. It also prevented cutting off utilities for lack of payment through May 31
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • On April 7, S&P Global Ratings downgraded Argentina over the country’s April 5 decision to delay $10 billion in debt payments, joining Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service to cut the country’s sovereign credit ratings in less than one week. The decree delaying the debt payment is separate from the roughly $70 billion in foreign currency owed under international law that the country is working to negotiate with creditors.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The IMF’s April World Economic Outlook report projected Argentina’s GDP will contract 5.7 percent in 2020. The World Bank’s April semiannual report projects GDP growth to contract 5.2 percent in 2020. On March 25, the organization had announced it will lend Argentina $300 million in emergency funds, totaling $165 million in 2020 and $135 in 2021.
  • The government announced on March 23 it will raise salaries by roughly $470 for medical workers at public and private hospitals as an incentive to reduce rising absences since the viral outbreak.

Bolivia

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Government response

Economic impact and measures

Brazil

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Government response

  • On June 3, government health regulations agency Anvisa approved human clinical trials to start this month for a possible COVID-19 vaccine developed at Oxford University, as scientists turn to the Latin American epicenter to test developing medicine. The trials will 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.
  • President Jair 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. The United States also said it would send 1,000 ventilators to Brazil “soon.” This joint effort comes after Washington restricted travel to non-U.S. citizens from Brazil into the United states starting May 26 as the South American country’s daily death toll surpassed that of the United States.
  • On May 27, São Paulo state and city authorities announced a five-level plan to reopen commercial activity beginning June 1. The city of São Paulo will open at Level 2, which permits some real estate and shopping activities to resume, while municipalities in the surrounding metropolitan region will remain at Level 1, where only essential services and construction projects may operate. 
  • On May 26, federal police raided the home of Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel, who is at odds with Bolsonaro over the president’s handling of the pandemic. Witzel’s home was raided in relation to a Supreme Court COVID-19 corruption probe to investigate the use of public funds to fight the health crisis. Witzel accused Bolsonaro of “interfering” in this investigation for political gain.
  • 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 Eduardo 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 May 14, Bolsonaro signed a decree that exempts public officials from being held liable for mistakes made during the pandemic, including ones causing economic harm. The measure says officials will only be punished if investigations reveal they acted intentionally.
  • A May 12 CNT/MDA poll showed that Bolsonaro’s approval rating fell to 39.2 percent from 47.8 percent in January. The poll also showed 69.2 percent of respondents supporting their governors’ actions over the president’s. On May 3, the president had joined a demonstration against Congress and the Supreme Court, speaking out in favor of reopening the economy and disapproving of social distancing measures adopted by state governors.
  • On May 12, the Attorney General’s office gave the Supreme Court Bolsonaro’s coronavirus test results, which were negative.
  • On May 9, Congress declared an official three-day state of mourning for the more than 10,000 deaths in the country. On May 3, the Health Ministry reported that the death rate rose to 6.9 percent. On April 28, Brazil surpassed China in the number of coronavirus-related deaths per day, reaching a record high of 474 deaths in 24 hours. When asked about this, Bolsonaro responded by saying “So what? I’m sorry. What do you want me to do about it?” The nationwide death toll is doubling every five days, according to public health agency Fiocruz, reported on April 23.
  • On April 29, São Paulo municipal authorities said they will not be relaxing social distancing measures on May 11 as previously announced, but now plan to impose stricter measures, including closing major roads and highways within the city, as the death toll continues to rise. São Paulo has roughly 6 percent of the country’s population and 27 percent of confirmed COVID-19 fatalities.
  • On April 29, Education Minister Abraham Weintraub became the target of a Supreme Court investigation over racism allegations, after he published a tweet earlier in April blaming China for the pandemic.
  • On April 15, the Supreme Court affirmed that states and municipalities have the autonomy to regulate social distancing measures.
  • On April 14, Infrastructure Minister Tarcísio de Freitas announced a plan to bring medical equipment from China over the next eight weeks, with help from the private sector covering transport and freight costs. 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.
  • On April 10, the government announced measures to protect over 800,000 members of indigenous communities from the virus, including technical reports, recommendations, and clinical protocols, produced via the Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health.
  • On April 2, the Health Ministry announced it had certified 5 million people to join the healthcare professional ranks in the response to the pandemic.
  • On March 27, the government announced the closing of borders via air to all foreigners for 30 days, with commerce continuing as normal. This expanded a measure announced on March 19 restricting entry to foreigners at all land borders—excluding permanent residents, diplomats, or international organization officials.

Economic impact and measures

  • Industrial production reached record-low levels with an 18.8 percent decline in April following a 9 percent fall in March, according to a June 3 Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) report.
  • 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. The measures were originally to be in effect through September.
  • On May 27, Bolsonaro signed a law releasing $11.3 billion in federal aid to states and municipalities, to be 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 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. The Ministry also reported that emergency payments to informal workers will total over $28 billion instead of the originally forecasted $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 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.
  • 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 12, the government announced that 7.2 million Brazilians, or 21 percent of the formal workforce, have experienced salary cuts or reduced work hours.
  • 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 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 6, the Central Bank cut its benchmark Selic interest rate by 75 points to a new low of 3 percent, in what was the largest rate slash since October 2017.
  • 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. These measures came after the development bank BNDES had announced on March 30 it will give roughly $388 million in credit to the health sector to increase the number of ICU beds and medical equipment. 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 May 5, Fitch Ratings downgraded Brazil to a negative outlook from stable given worsening economic projections given the pandemic.
  • An April 30 Central Bank report announced that irrespective of the pandemic, the primary deficit in March reached $4.3 billion and public debt stands at 78.4 percent of GDP.
  • Unemployment rose to 12.2 percent in the first quarter of 2020, affecting 12.9 million Brazilians, according to a survey released April 30 by the IBGE. In February, unemployment was at 11.6 percent.
  • On April 28, Bolsonaro expanded the definition of essential businesses and added retail, food services, transportation, auto repair shops, and storage businesses to the list.
  • 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 22, the government announced the $4.7 billion “Pro-Brazil” economic plan, which will roll out in October 2020. Chief of Staff Walter Braga Netto, who’s heading the project, says the plan “is not about economic recovery, but economic and social growth.” No members of the Economy Ministry attended the announcement.
  • On April 22, the Chamber of Deputies approved a roughly $2.9 billion credit line for small businesses, which now goes to the Senate for a final vote.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • On March 26, the Health Ministry estimated the pandemic would cost the healthcare system just under $2 billion, and the government is asking the World Bank for a $100 billion loan.
  • On March 11, Brazil's federal government decided to dedicate at least $1 billion of a budget bill to the Health Ministry. 
  • The Brazilian stock market tumbled 7 percent on news of the first case, amounting to the biggest depreciation since May 2017. A World Bank April 12 report projects the Brazilian economy will contract 5 percent in 2020. The Central Bank announced its revised growth projections on April 6 to -1.18 percent, down from a previous 0 percent on March 26. On April 3, the Brazilian real devalued 1.15 percent, reaching a record low of R$5.32 per U.S. dollar.

Chile

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Government response

  • On June 1, the Health Ministry announced it was updating its methodology to include suspected COVID-19-related deaths, with or without the presence of a positive test result, in the official death count.
  • The Health Ministry extended lockdown measures in 38 districts in the greater Santiago metropolitan area through June 5, officials announced on May 27, two weeks after the measures first went into effect. On May 13, the Ministry reaffirmed quarantine for every Chilean aged 75 years or older.
  • In a May 17 televised address, President Sebastián 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.
  • On May 10, the Health Ministry decided to use the Air Force to bring patients to other regions outside the Santiago metropolitan area to avoid any facility exceeding 80 percent of care capacity.
  • On May 10, the Health Ministry announced the start of rapid testing for health personnel to detect antibodies against the virus. On the same day, the government halted plans to give out COVID-19 immunity cards for those with tested antibodies due to rising concern over discrimination against those without cards yet. Mañalich said the government will for now only give out discharge cards for those infected who have completed the two-week isolation period, as announced in Plan Safe Return on April 24, which also programs a gradual return to work for public employees, private sector workers, education professionals, and students. The plan excludes at-risk groups such as the elderly and pregnant women.
  • An April 20 Cadem poll saw Piñera's approval rising to 25 percent, up 13 points since the March 18 declaration of the state of exception.
  • On April 19, Piñera announced a gradual plan for restarting in-person work for essential government workers such as public administration office heads. He also announced the extension of remote schooling until further notice, with an update expected in May.
  • On April 17, the Ministry of Economy Lucas Palacios published protocols for the gradual reopening of shopping malls, including training employees on new health guidelines and measures such as one meter spacing between people. 
  • On April 15, the Chamber of Deputies approved a measure prohibiting cuts or suspensions to utility services during the 90-day state of catastrophe, which runs through mid-June.
  • 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.
  • The government is following a method of “strategic and dynamic quarantine.” In an April 12 interview with Canal T13, Piñera said that a total nationwide quarantine is “not sustainable” as the government cannot assure the production and supply of basic goods and services to those under quarantine. “The definitive solution will be when we have the vaccine, and that’s not on the short-term horizon,” he said, adding that he wants to prevent the pandemic from causing a social and economic crisis. The national curfew announced on March 22 from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. remains in place.
  • Public television networks are collaborating with the Education Ministry to create an educational channel, TV Educa Chile. The channel, which debuts April 27, will target children in the first and second grades.
  • Starting April 8, the use of protective masks is mandatory on public and private transport across Chile, a measure to be monitored by health authorities as well as the Chilean Armed Forces and the national police.
  • On March 24, Piñera announced a new labor law regulating and facilitating remote work, including mandatory requirements that stipulate work vs. personal time. In addition, the government established a maximum cost of $30 for the COVID-19 test in private healthcare facilities.
  • Political parties and the Electoral Service agreed on March 19 to postpone the constitutional referendum to October 25 amid the coronavirus pandemic crisis.
  • On March 18, Piñera declared a nationwide state of catastrophe as of March 19 for 90 days, following the government’s Action Plan. This includes banning gatherings in public spaces, controlling the distribution of basic necessities, and limiting people’s movement across cities and the country, all with the help of the Armed Forces.
  • On March 16, the government said the country entered the most complex phase of risk (phase 4), and that it would be closing all borders as of March 18, allowing only Chilean citizens to reenter the country with an obligatory two-week quarantine.  

Economic impact and measures

  • On May 23, the government began to roll out part of the Emergency Family Income payments, allowing 499,000 homes to receive the funds one week early. On May 13, Congress approved the Emergency Family Income Project that was announced on April 20, which will provide three-month economic relief for 4.5 million Chileans in the informal sector.
  • On May 20, Piñera announced the disbursement of nearly $100 million to municipalities. This adds to a May 7 distribution of $196 billion to support local governments in fighting the virus.
  • On May 18, the government announced new measures for economic relief to small- and medium-sized businesses, that aims to give $150 million to 180,000 businesses nationwide. Previously 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.
  • On May 7, the Central Bank announced that economic activity dropped 3.5 percent in March 2020 in comparison to the same month in 2019.
  • 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.
  • Starting April 17, 2.7 million Chileans will receive 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. 
  • The IMF downgraded its 2020 projection for Chile’s economy in an April 14 report to contract 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.
  • 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. Finance Minister Ignacio 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.
  • On April 1, Mañalich agreed with private health insurance companies to delay any increase in insurance plan costs after, on March 31, seven of them—known as ISAPREs— announced they would raise costs starting July 2020, despite the public health crisis. 
  • On April 1, Piñera announced the new Employment Protection law. The plan secures jobs for over 4.7 million workers as part of the government’s economic package of roughly $12 million.

Colombia

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Government response

Economic impact and measures

Costa Rica

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Government response

  • The National Emergency Commission declared on June 3 an orange alert in five districts in the northern region of the country due to rising cases in those areas. While the rest of the country remains under a yellow alert, the districts now under the orange alert will undergo two weeks of stricter health measures starting June 3. These measures include a weeknight vehicle restriction between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m. and the closing of most businesses during the weekends.
  • On June 1, the country’s third phase of reopening went into effect, following an announcement by the Health Ministry on May 29. In the third stage, all restaurants, hotels, event halls, and museums will open at 50 percent capacity. The vehicle restrictions in place since May 16 under the second reopening phase will continue until June 20: during the week, no cars can circulate between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. while daytime transit will continue under the same limitations in place since April 13. Circulation is allowed between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weekends. The second phase also included reopening beaches and national parks, shuttered since mid-March. Alvarado initially announced on April 27 that the country would begin to ease some restrictions starting May 1. The first phase included lifting restrictions on movie theaters and sports facilities during the week, and beauty salons, barber shops, and auto repair shops on the weekends. Mass gatherings remain prohibited. On May 11, the Health Ministry published a tentative timeline for comprehensive reopening under which the government reevaluates measures every two weeks based on the epidemiological curve in the country. 
  • Costa Rica began to restrict foreign cargo transit into the country on May 18 to limit the spread of the coronavirus within its borders. The new guidelines outline that foreign truckers who passed through Nicaragua on their way to Costa Rica and whose destination is Panama must be escorted by Costa Rican authorities to the Panamanian border. When it comes to cargo meant for Costa Rica, truckers must leave the merchandise at the country’s border so that local carriers can complete its delivery.
  • Costa Rica’s Public Security Ministry announced on May 29 that the country’s borders will remain closed to tourists and non-resident foreigners until June 30 as opposed to mid-June. Citizens and residents of the country may leave but will be required to undergo a two-week quarantine upon return. Costa Rica’s immigration agency announced on April 18 that it will not penalize individuals who overstay their visas, given travel restrictions currently in place globally. Alvarado first announced the closure of all land, air, and sea entry points on March 16, when he declared a national state of emergency that went into effect on March 18. 
  • Alvarado delivered his annual address to the Legislative Assembly on May 4, during which he praised his government’s response to the pandemic and said he would focus on ensuring the country’s long-term economic success.
  • On April 11, Costa Rican authorities opened an air base at the country’s northern border with Nicaragua to reinforce border closure policies along the normally high-traffic shared border. The base comes with heightened military personnel and surveillance to prevent people crossing south, according to Vice President Epsy Campbell, in light of the fact that Nicaragua has instituted minimal measures against the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country since confirming its first case on March 18. On May 5, the government announced that it had isolated its Central Regional Apprehension Center for immigrants after confirming a coronavirus outbreak within the facility. Of the 13 new cases reported by the Health Ministry on May 5, 12 of those were in relation to the detention center. 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.
  • Also on March 24, Alvarado requested that WHO create a repository of information available to all member countries that includes patents of diagnostic tests and practices, medication, and vaccines. Alvarado also requested that the organization develop a procedure for the implementation of this information-sharing initiative with financial support from both the public and private sectors as well as other international organizations.
  • Alvarado declared a state of emergency on March 16, announcing that the country would close its borders to foreigners and non-residents starting just before midnight on March 18, a closure that’s since been extended through May 15. Citizens and residents of the country will be required to undergo a two-week quarantine. Residents and tourists who leave the country during this time will not be allowed reentry until at least May 15. Costa Rica’s immigration agency announced on April 18 that it will not penalize individuals who overstay their visas, given travel restrictions currently in place globally.
  • On March 12, the government announced it would issue preventative school closings in cases of high risk factors to start the week of March 16, that public spaces should operate at 50 percent capacity, and that international travel for public-sector workers has been cancelled. Large gatherings were also suspended. 

Economic impact and measures

  • On May 8, the government announced a $1.5 billion economic package including loans; assistance for micro-, small-, and medium businesses; and a plan to attract private investment. The loans will be available to all productive sectors and may be used as seed capital assistance or for business-reopening costs. The measures came a day after the country’s Central Bank reported that unemployment in Costa Rica reached 12.5 percent in the first quarter of 2020, the highest rate in a decade.
  • 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.
  • On April 12, the World Bank predicted that the Costa Rican economy will contract by 3.3 percent in 2020.
  • 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 30, the Costa Rican Restaurants Chamber reported that 7,980 restaurants closed in March leading to 109,440 layoffs.
  • On March 19, Alvarado signed into law tax relief legislation that effectively places 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. 
  • Costa Rica’s national emergency commission received a $1 million aid package from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration to combat the virus in the country.
  • The pandemic will have a significant impact, given the importance of tourism to Costa Rica’s economy, with 3.1 million people visiting in 2019 and 220,000 people employed in the industry. Tourism accounts for 8.2 percent of the country’s GDP.

Cuba

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Government response

  • On May 12, the Health Ministry published in the government’s official gazette the sanitary and health protocols to follow during the pandemic. 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.” 
  • Authorities released 6,579 prison inmates between March and April to avoid contagion within the prison system, though arrests and detentions related to violations of COVID-19 restrictions have been taking place.
  • Cuba has deployed medical brigades to at least 20 countries to support local efforts.
  • Cuba’s Minister of Internal Trade Betsy Díaz Velázquez and Minister of Transportation Eduardo Rodríguez announced April 9 that, starting on April 11, most public urban, rural, and intra-municipal transportation will be suspended and most commercial spaces will close down. Only authorized transportation will operate at 50 percent capacity for essential workers and people heading to health appointments or other emergency situations, while stores will only sell food and essential items. Authorities also added more items to the island’s monthly ration book—la libreta—in an attempt to decrease the number of people gathering in long store lines.
  • On April 7, the government declared that the country had entered a phase of “limited local transmission.” Under this phase, the Defense Councils across the country will set up quarantines in neighborhoods or municipalities with suspected or confirmed local transmission.
  • 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.
  • On April 1, the government suspended this year’s May Day parade and announced that prices for cell phone data and voice usage would be lower in the mornings. Rates for national long distance calls will also be 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 will also add 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.
  • The Ministry of Tourism announced on May 15 that the country’s borders would remain closed to tourism “until indicated by the government,” though reports are circulating that the government plans to reopen airports and resume tourism July 1; Air Canada, American Airlines, and Southwest are all selling tickets for flights in the first half of July. The government announced on March 31 the suspension of all commercial and charter flights to the island starting April 2, prohibiting also all foreign sea traffic in Cuban waters. The decision came two weeks after the Cuban government had announced that it would remain open to visitors. Domestic travel had already been suspended on March 23. 
  • As of March 24, tourists may not enter the island, and Cuban nationals and foreign permanent residents who return from abroad to the island must be quarantined for two weeks. One month after the border closure, the Cuban government had facilitated the repatriation of 2,000 Cuban citizens and residents to the island.
  • On March 23, Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero announced the closure of schools and universities until April 20, subject to extension. Classes have since transitioned to televised sessions.
  • 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 coordinate repatriation via air. 

Economic impact and measures

Dominican Republic

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Government response

  • 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 were authorized to reopen, and churches were given the green light to resume their Sunday services with reduced attendees. Businesses that had not yet cleared to reopen may resume operations based on their size and number of staff. President Danilo Medina announced on May 17 the government’s plan to partially reopen the Dominican economy. The plan went into effect 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. Phase three is tentatively scheduled to go into effect June 17, pending government review of the first two phases.
  • On June 1, Medina extended the nationwide state of emergency and national curfew––both of which were set to expire that day––for 12 more days through June 13.  It’s the fourth time Medina extended the measure, which initially went into effect on March 29. The country’s borders remain closed, and the measure bars incoming flights and most commercial activities and cultural activities. The nightly curfew, initially decreed on March 20 and also extended three times, now extends from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m from Monday through Saturday and 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. on Sunday. 
  • The Health Ministry announced on May 5 that authorities will 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––that will be inspected in May.
  • 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.
  • Also on April 22, Medina inaugurated the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Cybersecurity Center (C5i), a new agency housed within the Ministry of Defense that will work in conjunction with the country’s Armed Forces to monitor and enforce measures directed at those infected, including enforcing at-home quarantines and moving patients to medical facilities. 
  • Minister of Public Health Rafael Sánchez announced on April 16 that wearing masks in public spaces will now be mandatory and further measures will be taken in areas of high contagion.
  • Also on April 13, the country’s Electoral Board pushed back congressional and presidential general elections originally scheduled for May 17 to July 5.
  • On March 20, Medina decreed a nationwide curfew between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. until April 3. Medical personnel, journalists, and people with medical emergencies are exempt from the curfew.
  • Medina had already suspended all incoming flights from Europe, China, and Iran on March 16 through the end of the month.

Economic impact and measures

  • According to data from the country’s social security office, over 21,000 of the country’s 92,000 businesses closed down from March to April, leaving nearly 500,000 workers without a job. Three of every four shuttered businesses were small- or medium-sized enterprises.
  • Fitch Ratings downgraded its rating for the Dominican Republic from stable to negative on May 5.
  • On April 29, the IMF approved $650 million in emergency assistance for the Dominican Republic.
  • 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.
  • New economic projections by the World Bank published on April 12 forecast that the Dominican economy will neither grow nor contract this year, though debt is expected to grow 5 percent and account for 45.3 percent of the country’s GDP. 
  • Minister of Labor Winston Santos announced that, starting April 7, all laborers whose work has been disrupted by the crisis will continue to be enrolled in the national Family Health Insurance program for the next 60 days, which cover the workers as well as their dependents.
  • 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 March 25, Medina announced an economic package worth $591,200 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 will also receive this assistance. An additional 70,000 homes were added to the program on April 23.
  • On March 18, the country's Central Bank announced a stimulus package for homes, small businesses, and the tourism and export sectors.

Ecuador

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Government response

  • After 78 days of lockdown, Quito downgraded to the medium yellow alert level and began to reopen on June 3 with businesses and public buses operating at 50 percent occupancy. City council members and representatives of the Quito Chamber of Commerce had petitioned Mayor Jorge Yunda in a meeting on May 12 to change the capital’s lockdown level from red to yellow, given the close to $1 billion in losses in just the first two weeks of the national shutdown. Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, began reopening on May 20 after it became a yellow zone based on the country’s “traffic light” reopening system. While Guayaquil has been the epicenter of the country’s outbreak and seen over 9,000 COVID-19-related deaths, on May 17 the city registered just 34 deaths, below its pre-pandemic average of 38 per day. The country began to loosen some restrictions and shift from social isolation to social distancing on May 4 via the three-color system based on the contagion levels in a given municipality. Red zones maintain a total shutdown, while in yellow zones, the public and private sectors can reopen with 50 percent of personnel. In green zones, up to 70 percent of workers can return to work. Moreno said local mayors will make the determination on how much to open up their respective municipalities.
  • Ecuador’s airports are set to reopen to both domestic and international flights on June 1 at 30 percent of their usual capacity. Travelers arriving from abroad will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 (serological, not quick) test result taken within the 72 hours prior to boarding and, upon landing, spend five days in isolation at home or a hotel. Ecuador’s borders have been closed to nationals and residents since March 16 and to foreigners since March 15.
  • On May 15, Ecuador’s unicameral Congress approved a Humanitarian Support Law with the aim of giving some stability to the country’s labor and business sectors. Moreno’s party and affiliates backed the measure, as did the Quito Chamber of Commerce, while legislators from the center-right Social Christian Party, the left-wing supporters of former President Rafael Correa, and union leaders were against it. The law’s primary new feature is that it will allow for work weeks and salaries to be reduced by up to 50 and 45 percent, respectively, for two years at a time. Experts anticipate the country’s Constitutional Court will need to rule on it to reconcile any potential conflicts with labor law already on the books. The president has until June 15 to either sanction or veto the measure.
  • In a Quito City Council meeting on May 12, councilmembers and representatives of the Quito Chamber of Commerce asked Mayor Jorge Yunda to change the capital’s lockdown level from red to yellow, given the close to $1 billion in losses in just the first two weeks of the national shutdown. Yunda said he’s reviewing the proposal, while noting that the city’s number of cases is still rising, with a projected peak of May 26.
  • In an effort to restructure and rein in the executive branch’s scope and budget, on May 11 President Lenin Moreno officially eliminated two ministries, folded a third into another, and closed three public works companies. The Treasury asked all government agencies on May 5 to submit plans to reduce their budgets by 10 to 15 percent by May 30.
  • The Ecuadoran court system began a gradual reopening process on May 11. The courtrooms of judges who are elderly, at risk, pregnant or nursing will be first in line to be outfitted to hold virtual hearings. Legal proceedings mostly shut down March 16 when the state of emergency went into effect, though the Supreme Court did make time to hand down an eight-year prison sentence on April 7 to ex-President Rafael Correa in absentia.
  • On May 5, the government announced the extension of the state of exception for 30 more days starting on May 16. Schools across the country remain closed until further notice. When first announced on March 16, Moreno announced the state of exception during which there would be a nightly curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., as well as limits on the circulation of cars. Air transit is also suspended until the new date.
  • Health Minister Xavier Solórzano said on April 28 that 250 medical professionals who are graduating as part of a state-sponsored program—through which they work in a public institution in exchange for the government subsidizing their education—are currently unable to go into the field due to lack of government funds to pay their salaries.
  • Moreno announced that, as of May 4, the country will begin to loosen some restrictions and shift from social isolation to social distancing, via a “traffic light” system based on the contagion levels in a given municipality. Moreno said local mayors will make the determination on how much to open up their respective municipalities.
  • In Guayas province, with about two-thirds of the country's cases, overwhelmed health and security forces are having trouble keeping up with the collection of bodies, and citizens, worried about having possibly contagious bodies of the deceased in their homes, have started depositing them in the streets and public places. Police said they collected more than 300 bodies in Guayaquil from March 23–30, a period during which official figures registered 48 deaths from COVID-19 in the whole country. 
  • On the evening of March 15, Moreno announced a series of measures, including the suspension of citizens’ movements within the country except to buy food, medicine, and basic goods. Also banned are all non-essential commercial activities and social gatherings of more than 30 people. During the emergency, the administration is ordering that no one have their utilities cut off for lack of payment. The government is also providing increased internet and cell phone data service, as well as free coronavirus tests for anyone with symptoms.
  • Ecuador confirmed the first death from the virus on March 13. The woman who died, a 71-year-old woman who lived in Spain and traveled to Ecuador on February 14, was also the country’s first case.
  • On March 14, Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner announced a series of strict measures including the suspension of major events and religious services, restrictions on activities involving more than 30 people, and land border crossings limited to six entry points.
  • Moreno declared a national health emergency on March 11, requiring that all who travel to Ecuador from countries that have confirmed cases be placed under home quarantine. On March 12, authorities announced the suspension of all classes in educational institutions starting March 13. In addition, meetings of more than 1,000 people have been prohibited, as is taking masks, soap, and hand sanitizer out of the country. The government also prohibited mass gatherings in Guayaquil and Babahoyo, the two places visited by the first confirmed carrier.

Economic impact and measures

  • Ecuador will receive $2.4 billion in credit from China between June and October, Finance Minister Richard Martínez announced on May 29. He also said the country will be holding at least two rounds of talks with bondholders in June about restructuring the country’s $17 billion in sovereign debt. 
  • As of May 28, the national government owed $890 million in scheduled payments to Ecuador’s social security administration. By law, the national government contributes 40 percent of the fund’s resources but made no payments in the first five months of 2020.
  • Moreno announced seven new economic measures on May 19 aimed at cutting $4 billion from the national budget. The measures include a required reduction of the work day for most workers, closing or merging of 10 public entities, closing 11 embassies and other diplomatic offices, and restructuring Ecuador’s public debt. Moreno said that since the pandemic began, Ecuador has lost 150,000 jobs and the state is looking at a $12 billion budget shortfall. Labor groups are planning for a nationwide strike on May 25 against the workday reduction measure.
  • The IMF announced on May 2 that it had approved a $643 million loan in emergency financing for Ecuador.
  • Fitch Ratings downgraded bonds issued by PetroAmazonas from CC to C (one level above default) on April 30, due to moves by the company that the ratings agency considers a distressed debt exchange. It’s the fourth downgrade for the PetroEcuador subsidiary debt in 20 months. The ratings agency downgraded Ecuador’s sovereign debt to C on April 9, saying that, “Sovereign default of some kind is imminent.” The pressure to default on the sovereign debt is high for Moreno as the health crisis wracks the small country. Ecuador got a temporary reprieve in late April when investors agreed to let it defer some interest payments until August and reduce others.
  • The rebound of the WTI oil barrel price on April 22 after historic drops was welcome news for Ecuador, where oil exports represent 5 percent of GDP. Incidentally, Ecuador left OPEC in early March. Other Ecuadoran exports—like shrimp, bananas, canned fish, and cacao—were down 83 percent in the first two weeks of April compared to the same period last year. Not only is demand for exports globally down, but because Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, its exports become more expensive when the dollar appreciates, as it is now.
  • The administration unveiled a new bill that aims to reshape Ecuador’s work week for the next two years. The bill, said Labor Minister Luis Poveda, outlines work contracts during special emergencies, which would reduce weekly hours to as low as 20 per week, with flexible, staggered schedules spread out over six days.
  • Moreno announced on April 12 that he’s preparing to halve the salaries of government officials from his own through those of regional governors, congresspeople, and cabinet members. 
  • Ecuador’s Central Bank projects the economy will contract between 7.3 and 9.6 percent in 2020, it said on June 4. On April 12, the World Bank projected a 6.0 percent contraction for the year, down from a projection of 0.2 percent growth in October 2019.Renegotiating external debts and introducing new taxes on higher earners were two key measures in an April 10 fiscal policy package announced by Moreno. Companies that reported over $1 million in revenues in 2018 will be taxed 5 percent, and individuals who earn over $500 monthly will be taxed on a sliding scale. Moreno says the new tax revenues will go to expand a program from 950,000 families to 2 million that currently gives $60 over two months to families earning under $400 per month. Ecuador’s public debt hit $56 billion in June 2019, giving the country a 49 percent debt-to-GDP ratio.
  • The government closed its second-biggest oil refinery, La Libertad, on April 4 after over a quarter of its workers went into self-isolation after exposure to the virus. The refinery, which produces about 46,000 barrels per day and 15 percent of national demand, is located about a two hours’ drive from Guayaquil.
  • On March 27, Moreno announced a series of measures for the Galápagos Islands, among them extensions on tax payments for the tourism and agriculture industries, as well as small businesses.
  • Also on the same day, Moreno instituted a 12-month deferment with no surcharges aimed at farmers, small merchants, and artisans who can’t pay their water and electricity bills between April and June. 
  • On March 25, the government announced that the country will receive a total of $2 billion in emergency funds from three international agencies in the coming weeks: $500 million from the International Monetary Fund, $500 million from the World Bank, and $1 billion from bilateral debt, primarily from China. 
  • On March 25, S&P Global downgraded Ecuador’s long- and short-term credit ratings, with default a possibility in the coming months.
  • On March 17, Moreno announced steps to alleviate economic challenges battering the country. Under the new measures, social security payments will be postponed for 90 days while taxes will be deferred for the tourism and export sectors  for the months of April, May, and June, as well as for small businesses.

El Salvador

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Government response

  • On June 3, El Salvador’s Health Ministry issued a new decree that extends the obligatory quarantine until June 15 and which legal experts describe as legally questionable for violating rights and for lacking legislative approval. The measure also comes into conflict with the National Assembly’s push a few days earlier (see next bullet) to ease restrictions on public transportation and allow people to purchase medications without official IDs. But this is just the latest battle between the legislature and Bukele who, on the June 1 anniversary of his taking office, called his opponents “murderers” and “thieves.”
  • On May 30—and after the National Assembly spent six days working on legislation to establish the COVID-19 decree—Bukele promised to veto the measure, which sought to reopen business activities on June 8. In addition, the president threatened to delay economic reactivation until June 15. This isn’t the first time Bukele has threatened such a veto, and the issue has been at the heart of latest round institutional battles under the president’s watch as he marks the end of his first year in office. 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 make a decision 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 to veto a congressional measure passed May 18 that extended the country’s quarantine for no more than 15 days and eased rules to allow, among other things, the circulation of public transit and the purchase of medication without a national identification card, while also requiring companies to set public health protocols for an eventual reopening. With that measure dead in the water, the Assembly spent the week of May 25 drafting new legislations but hit various obstacles, including Bukele’s resistance to transparency measures imposed by the Assembly. 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. 
  • Tropical storm Amanda hit El Salvador over the weekend of May 30, claiming at least 15 lives and leaving 1,200 homeless, while raising concerns that COVID-19 could spread amid flooding and in shelters housing the displaced. On May 29, before Amanda made landfall, Bukele declared a 15-day state of emergency as a result of the storm. The storm-related state of emergency is separate from the one he decreed on May 17 in relation to the coronavirus that has led to highly public battles with the other branches of government.
  • 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. On April 24, Donald Trump tweeted that the United States is sending ventilators to El Salvador while acknowledging the country’s support on migration. In March, El Salvador suspended deportation flights from Mexico and the United States, but quickly lifted the ban. Mexico’s immigration services indicated April 26 that it had deported 3,653 people to Northern Triangle countries. 
  • On May 27, the president said he plans to push for a reform that would completely overhaul the country’s governmental structure, adding that: “We have the support of 97 percent of the population.” Bukele, who marks a year in office on June 1, has 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 U.S. President Donald Trump but which The Lancet suggested can actually increase the chances of death for COVID-19 patients. 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. Despite skepticism surrounding the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, the Health Ministry touted the fact that it had received a shipment of 2 million tablets of the drug on April 20.  
  • 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. 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 amid discord over the extension of an emergency decree. 
  • 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. The president responded by tweeting that those who quit the committee did so to avoid making property declarations and because they learned they could not accept government contracts as part of the committee. On May 12, in solidarity with one of the business leaders who quit the committee, El Salvador’s private sector canceled a meeting with the presidency intended to discuss the reopening of the economy. In addition, a number of business associations in other Central American countries voiced support for the country’s private sector, with one Guatemalan association saying: “It is important to remember the necessity of discussing economic themes with maturity.” In addition, although all Bukele’s ministries are legally required to provide detailed emergency spending reports to the legislature, only four had done so as of May 11.
  • 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 include 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, 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.
  • 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 requires 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 requires 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.
  • Bukele had also vetoed a bill to help repatriate Salvadorans stuck abroad due to the pandemic but, on April 22, the presidency said it would present a plan for gradual repatriation. 
  • 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.
  • 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 contradicts an April 8 Supreme Court ruling that annulled an earlier order by Bukele to seize vehicles. The Court also annulled Bukele’s 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, though reports of detentions continue.
  • 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.
  • On March 30, unrest broke out in the capital after an online system to disburse $300 subsidies (see economic measures) repeatedly crashed over that weekend. The government opened offices for people to get the subsidies in person, then closed them after crowds lined up and created a hazardous contagion situation.
  • On March 11, Bukele banned all foreign travel into the country, except for residents and diplomats, while returning Salvadorans were required to be isolated for 30 days. The president shut down the runway at the country’s main international airport just outside San Salvador on March 16. 

Economic impact and measures

  • On June 4, foundation FUSADES released a report in which it projected that, as a result of the pandemic, the portion of Salvadorans living in extreme poverty will rise from roughly 30 percent to more than 50 percent. FUSADES also projected that the economy could contract by as much as 7.4 percent. 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.
  • 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.
  • Per an April 2 news story, economists at development foundation Fundase say the country could see remittances halved in 2020 compared to 2019 due to soaring unemployment faced by Salvadorans in other countries.
  • 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.

Guatemala

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Government response

  • The first week of June, Guatemala’s Health Ministry released protocols defining the four phases to reopen the country, first publishing the accord on June 2 followed by a second version on June 3 with corrections. The phases, numbered 0 through 3, do not define dates. Each must last 14 days in order to assess whether the country is ready to enter the next stage and they range from a period when cases and hospital occupancy must decline (phase 0) through a staggered reopening to a “new normal” with protective measures in place (phase 3). 
  • On May 31, the president announced the suspension of weekend lockdowns, as well as a reduction in overnight curfews, which will now begin at 6 p.m. and end an hour earlier at 4 a.m. On May 14, the president declared a “total shutdown” of the country starting 5 p.m. the same day through 5 a.m. on May 18, with only trucks transporting essential goods or people with grave illnesses permitted to circulate during that time. The sudden weekend lockdown, which prevented people from buying food or getting gas, resulted in heavy traffic and long lines in the morning of May 18, when supermarkets reopened. Another lockdown was scheduled for the weekend of May 22.
  • Per a May 27 report, Guatemala is among five Latin American countries witnessing an accelerated increase in food prices. Starting in early April, Guatemalans began taking to the streets with white flags, asking for money to alleviate hunger. Since then, 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.”
  • A May 25 Prensa Libre article reports on government concern about a wave of unchecked, inverse migration, particularly at blind spots along the country’s borders. Authorities are reportedly worried that rising unemployment in the United States and a desire to be with loved ones amid the pandemic is drawing migrants—potentially some infected by the virus—back to Guatemala. 
  • Giammattei told outlet Emisoras Unidas on May 25 that he had signed a May 24 decree to be sent to the legislature that extends the country’s state of calamity until July in order to maintain social programs established to mitigate the COVID-19’s effects. The prior extension was set to expire on June 5. He also indicated that the country, which has been confirming more than 300 new cases a day, would need to consider a complete shutdown of the country for two weeks if the tally exceeds 500. First announced on March 6 for 30 days and extended three times previously, the state of calamity allows the government to enforce measures ranging from preventing price gouging to halting large gatherings.
  • At an online event hosted by the Washington-based Atlantic Council, 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.” The president, whose government has criticized the Trump administration for sending coronavirus-infected deportees to the country, went on to say Washington has sent ventilators and masks to other countries. On more than one occasion, the Guatemalan government announced it was halting deportation flights from the United States, but those flights have generally continued. The Trump administration has responded to the criticism with warnings such as saying it would send a team from the Centers for Disease Control to “validate” the country’s tests. Health Minister Hugo Monroy said on April 14 that between 50 percent and 75 percent of passengers on a March deportation flight ended up testing positive for the virus while in quarantine or isolation. On May 20, Giammattei asked Mexico for more health controls to ensure that Guatemalan deportees are not sent to the country with coronavirus. On June 1, Prensa Libre published an interview with the Mexican ambassador to Guatemala in which he stated that the Mexican government is working as best it can to secure the shared border and referred to the Giammattei’s comments as “the only black spot” in positive bilateral relations.
  • On May 10, with confirmed cases exceeding 1,000 for the first time, the president announced new measures: markets will 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 will be subject to punishment, hospitals that do not inform on coronavirus cases or violate protocols will face sanctions, and transit between the country’s departments is restricted on a national level. 
  • Giammattei announced on May 3 that the country would start its reopening process, beginning with shopping plazas, meaning “a place where I go with my car, I get out, I go to the shop, and I leave.” He said it does not include shopping malls.
  • The president completed his first 100 days in office on April 23. Of that time, 51 days were during this state of health calamity.
  • On April 19, Giammattei decreased curfew hours, moving them to start at 6 p.m. rather than 4 p.m. each afternoon and running through 4 a.m. each morning. Residents of four of the country’s departments, including the one that is home to the capital, must remain within their own territories, though essential workers with proper documentation can travel outside to other departments. Across the country, people continue to be restricted from using collective transport and must instead use their own cars, taxis or private transportation. The initial curfew, which began on March 22, was already extended on both March 29 and April 12, with additional measures put in place during the course of Easter holidays
  • Starting April 13, Guatemalans will be required to wear face masks in public, and violators will be fined. Giammattei warned that the measure could be in place for months to come. 
  • On the night of April 6, Giammattei warned Guatemalans that “the worst is yet to come in the coming weeks.” The president revealed that the country had received 22,500 tests from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, and announced plans to close off Patzún, a town of 60,000 people where a number of cases of local transmission have taken place.
  • Starting March 17, the Guatemalan government closed all forms of borders and prohibited entry by foreigners, suspended work, prohibited events of any size, stopped public transport, ended visits to institutions for senior citizens, closed all shopping malls, prohibited drinking after 5 p.m., and suspended visits to prisons. Shops must close from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. except in the case of pharmacies and essential basic services. Guatemalans can reenter the country, while residents and members of the diplomatic corps must undergo quarantine when returning to the country.
  • On March 14, the Health Ministry announced the following measures: prohibiting religious events, suspending all school for three weeks, prohibiting gatherings of more than 100 people, suspending Easter celebrations, and holding sporting events with no public attendance.
  • On March 13, Giammattei announced that he would expand a previously instituted travel ban so that it would include the United States and Canada. The ban involved any country where transmission has occurred domestically rather than cases brought in from international travel. The Health Ministry said Guatemalan nationals would be allowed to enter from countries on the travel prohibition list, but would be required to quarantine themselves in their homes.His government had already imposed travel restrictions on people returning from China as early as January. On March 11, the Health Ministry also indefinitely banned incoming flights from China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, South and North Korea, and Spain. Then, on March 15, the Health Ministry banned the entry of European foreign nationals to Guatemala.

Economic impact and measures

  • In what is described as a “Mother’s Day effect,” Guatemala saw a slight increase in remittances, which largely come from the coronavirus-battered United States, in May when compared to April. However, in the first five months of 2020 remittances have declined, from $3.9 billion this year compared to just over $4 billion in 2019.
  • On May 7, Nomada.gt detailed the 10 government assistance programs set up to mitigate the pandemic’s economic effects, ranging from a daily minimum payment of $10 for workers laid off in the formal sector to food stuffs and food coupons for vulnerable populations to a daily credit going to 200,000 families to cover breakfasts for public school students.
  • On April 29, Giammattei vetoed an April 3 legislative measure that would have guaranteed citizens access to basic services during the pandemic. On April 30, the legislature overturned the veto. On May 3, Giammattei, said no law was needed as he had come to an agreement with business leaders that water, electricity, phone, and internet services will not be suspended in cases of unpaid bills and that people could negotiate one-year repayment plans with these companies. On May 21, legislation guaranteeing public services during the pandemic was published in the government’s official gazette
  • On April 14, the IMF forecast that Guatemala’s economy will contract by 2 percent in 2020.
  • The president announced on March 29 that it will tap a $26 million emergency fund to help families in need during the epidemic, giving $129 to those who meet the requirements to cover costs for electricity, water, and supplies. This program, known as Bono Familia, was approved by the Guatemalan legislature on April 3. The legislature also approved a measure to help private-sector workers with up to $10-a-day stipend. In addition, no or low-interest loans for businesses while a separate fund will provide credit to micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises. 
  • On March 25, the Guatemalan Congress approved an emergency bill named the "Emergency Law to Protect Guatemalans from the impact of CORONAVIRUS COVID-19 pandemic" with a fund of roughly $480 million to cover elderly, health, employment, security, and economic programs during the emergency.
  • On March 9, the head of the Bank of Guatemala estimated between a 0.1 and 0.2 percent decrease in GDP for 2020 as a result of the coronavirus. On March 12, Congress approved the president’s proposed state of emergency bill with a fund of roughly $30 million for prevention and containment.
  • On March 20, the government said that it would increase its health budget to cover costs of medicine and equipment and suggested more funds could be made available depending on the impact of the pandemic in Guatemala. 

Honduras

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Government response

  • Honduras began reopening on June 1 after a multisector body, created May 17, tasked with drafting the country’s reopening strategy announced on May 29 that a process had been established. The plan divides the country into three regions, each made up of municipalities based on their number of confirmed cases and population sizes. The first region, with the fewest cases, has a three-phase reopening while the third region, with the most, will go through five.  All three regions kicked off their first phases on June 1 with “week zero,” a period during which sectors must make necessary preparations to meet the biosafety protocols established May 4 by Honduras’ Labor Secretariat. The multisector body on May 17 is made up of representatives from the private and public sectors as well as churches, academia, and the agricultural sector. Since May 4, a number of economic sectors have begun to gradually reopen: construction restarted on May 11 and manufacturing on May 18. Beauty salons and barber shops resumed operations May 18.
  • The Honduran government instituted a number of reciprocity measures against Costa Rica on May 26. Starting on said date, Costa Rican truckers may enter Honduras to unload cargo but may not load new cargo to take back to Costa Rica. Additionally, Costa Rican truckers will now only have 72 hours from the moment they cross into Honduras to deliver their cargo and leave the country, as opposed to the 10 days they had before. The move came after the Honduran government called on Costa Rica and Nicaragua on May 23 to come to an agreement to reopen the two countries’ shared border and allow the transit of more than 1,350 stranded trucks when Costa Rica closed the border on May 18. Costa Rica conducts approximately $3.4 billion in trade annually with its Central American neighbors, or about $10 million a day. 
  • On May 31, President Juan Orlando Hernández extended the national curfew––which was set to expire that day––one more week until June 7, after seven previous extensions through April 12, April 19, April 26, May 3, May 17, May 24, and May 31. Authorities will continue to limit weekday transit between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Citizens must wear face masks, carry hand sanitizer, and practice social distancing when visiting the locations authorized to remain open: supermarkets, banks, pharmacies, gas stations, and supply centers. All must remain at home during the weekends. 
  • A plane carrying 130 Honduran nationals deported from Mexico arrived in the country on April 26. This comes after two flights carrying a total of 269 deportees arrived in Honduras on April 15, in spite of a March 10 suspension by the Honduran government of such flights. Mexico’s migration agency reported that it deported 3,653 people to Northern Triangle countries from March 21 through April 26. Honduran authorities announced that, as of April 29, Honduras had four temporary isolation centers that will be able to accommodate up to 1,050 deportees arriving in the country from Mexico and the United States. Upon arrival, deportees will be required to undergo 14 days of mandatory quarantines in these centers. On May 9, the Honduran government announced it closed a border crossing with Guatemala in El Florido after an official assigned to the point tested positive for the virus. All customs and migratory operations through the location are temporarily suspended.
  • On April 25, the government extended price freezes in place for 30 basic grocery items through May 27, after the initial freeze went into effect on March 19
  • Through an April 3 statement, 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.
  • On the night of March 23, Hernández launched Honduras Solidaria, a state-run program that closed all markets and aimed to provide 800,000 families with foodstuff and hygiene products every two weeks for the next 30 days.
  • On March 16, the government announced a national-level curfew starting at 10 p.m. that evening, as well as a state of exception that allowed for the suspension of constitutional rights for seven days. 
  • Hernández announced the closing of all borders as of 11:59 p.m. on March 15 with the exception of Honduran nationals and permanent residents. The country’s national risk management agency also announced 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. That said, there are a host of exemptions, for everyone from public-sector and health service workers to drive-through restaurants.
  • On March 14, Honduras announced a two-week long national red alert that would restrict gatherings of more than 50 people and create specialized health units. On March 12, the country announced that all public and private schools would be closed for two weeks starting March 13.

Economic impact and measures

  • 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.
  • The country’s economy contracted by 1.3 percent in the first quarter of 2020, the Honduran Central Bank (BCH) announced on May 22.
  • The Central American Bank for Economic Integration announced on April 21 that it approved a $200 million contingent credit line for the BCH to “strengthen the position and liquidity management capacity” of the bank. 
  • The country will receive a World Bank credit worth $119 million “to strengthen the financial and institutional framework of Honduras to manage risks.” Meanwhile, new projections from the Bank published on April 12 show that the Honduran economy will contract by 2.3 percent in 2020.
  • The BCH approved a package of monetary policies to free up $465.5 million. Among them, the bank’s president Wilfredo Cerrato announced the reduction of mandatory investments in the national currency from 3 percent to 0 percent 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.
  • On March 31, the IMF disbursed $143 million to Honduras to support healthcare and social welfare spending.
  • On March 30, the president announced that the government will delay income tax payments until June 30 for micro, small, and medium-size business employees, which account for 70 percent of the workforce in the country. On April 2, the government announced that it would also extend the sales tax payments deadline for these businesses until June 30.
  • On March 16, the government announced measures such as injecting funds into the construction sector, extending credit lines to ensure access to food, and financial support for small business owners.

Mexico

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Government response

  • May 31 marked the last day of Mexico’s National Period of Healthy Distancing. Meanwhile, June 1 marked the beginning of a “new normal” (see May 18 entry below or read more complete coverage of the reopening plan) and staggered reactivation of the economy, despite the fact that 31 of 32 states remain at maximum COVID-19 risk levels. However, López Obrador indicated on June 1 that a new outbreak could lead to new periods of social distancing. As our growth-in-case chart at the top of this page shows, Mexico’s confirmed cases continue to rise. On May 28, the president reiterated a comment made in April that Mexico had “tamed” the coronavirus, despite the fact that on May 26 Mexico saw its highest number of new cases and deaths yet. On May 27, in a meeting with senators where some questioned his public health strategy, López-Gatell said the death tally in Mexico could reach 30,000.
  • In keeping with the reactivation plan, the president confirmed on May 28 that he would restart his travels around the country, starting with a June 1 trip to the Yucatán peninsula for the official start of construction of the Maya Train, one of the government’s key infrastructure projects. 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, releasing a video on March 27 encouraging people to stay home. On April 15, the office of the president announced that López Obrador would suspend his tours and remain in the capital to observe social distancing.
  • Per a May 30 announcement, schools will reopen on August 10 with a staggered attendance system based alphabetically on last names that means children will only physically be in school two days a week.  
  • Also on May 28, the president reiterated a comment made in April that Mexico had “tamed” the coronavirus, despite the fact that on May 26 Mexico saw its highest number of new cases and deaths yet. On May 27, in a meeting with senators where some questioned his strategy, López-Gatell said the death tally in Mexico could reach 30,000.
  • On May 26, López Obrador announced that, with the pandemic exposing the country’s lack of medical specialists, the government will be launching a scholarship program for up to 30,000 health professionals to study abroad. Scholarship recipients would be required to then serve for “some period of time” in the public health system.
  • On May 25, Mexican magazine Nexos published a study tallying death certificates in the capital that found there have been roughly 8,000 more deaths from January 1 to May 20 than normal, tracking counts back to 2016. The figure is more than quadruple the official count of COVID-19 deaths in the capital.  On May 7 and 8, articles in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and El País questioned Mexico’s official coronavirus counts, leading to a video response from López-Gatell in which the deputy minister said the government had been transparent about count gaps while also questioning the synchronized timing of the reports and their circulation by social media influencers. 
  • While Mexico kicked off its three-phase reopening on May 18, the Mexico City government said on May 20 that the capital, which accounts for close to 30 percent of Mexico’s confirmed cases, would begin a multi-phase reopening on June 15. A number of states—including Chihuahua, Guerrero, Jalisco, Oaxaca, and Yucatán—opted not to reopen activities in certain green-lighted towns called “municipalities of hope” on May 18. This is despite federal measures allowing more than 300 towns with no confirmed cases to do so as part of the first stage of reopening announced on May 13. The second stage, which runs from May 18 to 31, involves preparation to reopen the country. The third stage begins 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. 
  • On May 19, Canada, Mexico, and the United States agreed to extend the suspension of nonessential border travel again, this time until June 21. Mexico and the United States initially announced restrictions, which don’t apply to commerce, on March 20 and then initially extended them on April 20
  • On the evening of Friday, May 15, Mexico’s Energy Ministry fast-tracked, via the official federal gazette, a new measure that gives the government greater control of the electricity market. Citing COVID-19, the new rules’ stated intention is to allow the national electric system to “ensure reliability” and adds that renewables “will have to be postponed during the pandemic.” Critics say the move jeopardizes more than 40 solar and wind projects and $30 billion in investments while favoring the government’s fossil-fuel power plants. Amid threats that the move could result in lawsuits, López Obrador said on May 18 that the private sector, instead of seeking legal action, should be offering apologies and that some companies were conspiring to destroy the state oil firm Pemex and the state electrical commission, known as the CFE. However, on May 20, court injunctions allowed 23 wind and solar projects to restart pre-operational testing.
  • Also on May 13, a Mexico City government plan for reopening the capital indicates that offices and schools will not reopen until August while businesses such as bars and clubs as well as universities will not open until September. Some services—such as restaurants, department stores, religious services, and medical appointments—could restart as soon as June 15 but face occupancy limitations and sanitation restrictions. 
  • On May 5, the government adjusted the date it says the country will hit the peak of contagion to May 8. López-Gatell had previously said the peak would be May 6 and credited prevention measures with contributing to a flattening of the curve. (See our chart at the top of this page to track the rise in Mexico’s confirmed cases.) On May 3, López-Gatell clarified that Mexico is no longer following the Sentinel Surveillance technique, which focuses on monitoring over widespread testing, now that the country entered Phase 3 on April 21. Instead, Mexico has shifted to a method based on hospital occupancy and available beds. Mexico continues to conduct low levels of testing; at 0.6 tests per 1,000 people as of April 28, it had the lowest test rate among OECD countries.
  • Mexico’s immigration agency reported on August 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.  
  • On April 24, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the U.S. Congress had been notified that the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal would take effect on July 1, despite concerns expressed by some sectors—particularly automakers—about the deal’s implementation amid the pandemic.
  • 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 April 20, the social security and public health institute commonly known as IMSS reported that its health workers had faced 21 personal attacks in 12 states across the country and that the total attacks on health workers is likely higher. As a result, 1,600 National Guard members were dispatched to protect 184 IMSS hospitals attending to COVID-19 cases.
  • On April 12, the government and private hospitals signed an agreement that would run from April 23 to May 23 that required those hospitals to set aside half their beds—more than 3,000 beds in total—for people eligible for public health care.
  • On April 10, the federal government authorized governors and mayors to redirect security funds to go toward COVID-19 protection materials for police forces. 
  • Early in the morning of March 31, Mexico received 100,000 masks, 50,000 test kits, and five artificial respirators donated by the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation and facilitated by the Chinese government. In addition, the first of 20 shipments from China arrived on April 7 and Ebard said April 9 that the government had invested more than $56 million in medical purchases from China. 
  • On the evening of March 30, 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 will 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.”

Economic impact and measures

  • Official figures released on June 1 show that 12 million people, whether formal or informal laborers, stopped working in April and it is uncertain whether they will return to work. The report also found that about 2.1 million people are actively unemployed and seeking work. A May 13 report by México ¿cómo vamos? that used data from the country’s social security institution found that Mexico experienced a record-setting number of job losses in April, with more than 555,000 jobs lost, due to the economic fallout of the pandemic. On May 14, The Los Angeles Times reported that 10.7 million people—or 8.5 percent of the population—could fall into extreme poverty this year, another 2 million job losses could be added by the end of 2020.
  • On May 27, the Bank of Mexico spelled out three different scenarios for the Mexican economy this year and predicted the country could see a GDP contraction in the range of 4.6 percent to 8.8 percent—the latter being a drop not seen since a 14 percent contraction in 1932. The Bank also suggested that as many as 1.4 million jobs could be lost in the worst-case scenario. In late February, just prior to the first confirmed case in Mexico, the Bank had forecast GDP growth of between 0.5 and 1.5 percent and between 440,000 and 540,000 jobs created. 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.
  • On May 26, the Bank of Mexico indicated a risk of capital flight; Mexicans transferred more than $5 billion in assets abroad during the first quarter of 2020. But the pandemic also has Mexican immigrants sending money home, with remittances spiking 36 percent to hit a record $4.02 billion in April.
  • López Obrador announced on May 14 that life insurance will be provided to health workers attending coronavirus patients. 
  • On May 7, the head of Mexico's social security system said that, thus far, 127,000 small business owners had requested the $1,000 loans being offered by the López Obrador government. The president initially announced that 1 million loans would be made available on March 24, added another million April 16, and expanded the program to 3 million on April 22. The plan covers small businesses that have demonstrated solidarity through measures such as not firing employees. Businesses must repay the loans after a three-year period at interest rates ranging from 6 to 10 percent, depending on each firm’s size.
  • Per a May 6 report by Reforma’s Mexico Today, Mexico’s restaurant chamber says at least 10 percent of the country’s 10 million restaurants will not make it through the pandemic due to limited loan programs and a lack of fiscal relief, noting some 200,000 jobs will be lost
  • Pemex posted a $23 billion loss in the first quarter of the year, given a crash in oil prices related to a drop in demand amid the pandemic. On April 20, Mexico’s crude oil exports closed at -$2.37 per barrel, down 116 percent from the April 17 close, when Moody’s downgraded state oil firm Pemex bonds to junk. López Obrador has focused on reviving the country’s sagging oil sector. On April 12, after four days of OPEC+ meetings aimed at slashing production to boost oil prices and with Mexico the hurdle to closing the deal, the López Obrador government agreed to cut its production by just 100,000 barrels per day (bpd). The United States absorbed the other 300,000 bpd in cuts to hit the group’s global target.
  • On April 27, López Obrador suggested that, once the COVID-19 emergency passes, he would reexamine the country’s pension system while criticizing its prior privatization. Some workers have begun to withdraw funds from their pensions amid the pandemic.
  • 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.
  • On April 17, Moody’s downgraded Mexico’s credit rating from A3 to Baa1. This comes just after Fitch’s April 15 downgrade of its credit rating for Mexico to BBB-, outlook stable, to one notch above “junk” given fears of a “severe recession.” S&P Global Ratings downgraded its credit ratings for both Mexico and Pemex on March 26.
  • In an April 16 post on the IMF's blog, the head of the agency’s Western Hemisphere Department Alejandro Werner explored regional governments' spending packages to fight the pandemic. In terms of packages as a percent of GDP, only the Bahamas is allocating fewer resources than is Mexico.
  • The Labor Secretariat revealed on April 8 that the country had already lost 347,000 jobs as a result of the pandemic.
  • On April 3, López Obrador ordered the cancellation of government public trusts. The funds will be redirected by April 15 to the Federal Treasury. The 281 public trusts represent more than $10 billion, which, per the president, will be used for social programs, economic recovery and credit lending, support for state oil firm Pemex, and public debt payments. Some trusts used for emergency purposes, to be decided by the finance ministry, will require legal changes.
  • López-Gatell confirmed on March 31 that the health emergency declared a day earlier required the closure of Mexico’s beaches. Tourism accounts for 8.7 percent of Mexico’s total GDP.
  • On March 23, the president said that companies should not be waiting for bailouts or tax breaks.
  • On March 20, Banca de México cut its benchmark interest rate by 50 basis points to 6.50 percent.
  • On March 18, López Obrador said senior citizens would get an advance on their next pension deposits.

Nicaragua

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Government response

  • In a July 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.
  • 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 thus far tested positive. 
  • A May 12 report by the Associated Press found that Nicaragua’s government is 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.
  • 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.” Meanwhile, the local newspaper La Prensa reported on the same day that Nicaragua’s tourism agency has over 400 large-scale events planned for the month of May. Per a May 6 report by the Nicaraguan newspaper Confidencial, the government has begun rotating public employees, asking some to work from home and sending others on vacation to avoid contagion.
  • Starting the last week of April, the government began cleaning and disinfecting some street markets and all urban and inter-municipal public transportation units, including bus stops and taxis.
  • On April 18, Ortega’s administration prevented the return of 92 Nicaraguan migrants stuck in El Salvador and Honduras. Though the government has not officially ordered the country’s borders closed, Nicaraguan officials canceled two flights on April 17 that were scheduled to repatriate 160 Nicaraguans from the Cayman Islands. 
  • Nicaraguan health authorities are visiting households across the country to verify their sanitation measures, said Murillo, per an April 16 report. The brigades also give each family an information sheet listing a number of preventive measures to contain the spread.
  • Ortega addressed the nation in a televised address on April 15, breaking his 34-day silence and putting an end to speculation as to his whereabouts and wellbeing. The president insisted that all the country’s cases are “imported” and that the country hasn’t “stopped working, because if this country stops working, it dies.” Ortega did not announce new measures. 
  • Director of the Pan American Health Organization Carissa Etienne expressed concern via an April 7 video press conference about Nicaragua’s handling of the pandemic, saying the organization considers it an “ineffective prevention.”
  • On April 2, the government extended Easter school closures an extra week. Classes resumed April 20. Easter vacations were also extended for public employees, who returned to work on April 15. Starting May 4, a number of universities will offer some courses virtually while others will take steps to cut the number of students and faculty present on campus any given day by assigning them days of the week. 
  • On April 1, Ortega named Martha Verónica Reyes Àlvarez as the new Minister of Health, replacing Carolina Dávila Murillo. Dávila Murillo will now serve as an advising minister to the president in charge of overseeing health services in Managua.
  • On March 25, the country's armed forces closed down all unofficial entry points across Nicaragua’s southern border with Costa Rica, reports La Prensa. The move followed a March 21 meeting between Costa Rican and Nicaraguan officials in which the two countries agreed to collaborate in sharing health information but did not commit to closing their shared border. 
  • Before authorities confirmed the country’s first case, Ortega’s administration announced that it would ban wakes and funerals for those who die of the virus. 

Economic impact and measures

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The World Bank forecasts that Nicaragua’s GDP will see a 4.3 percent contraction this year.

Panama

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Government response

  • Panama entered the second phase of its reopening process on June 1, the government announced on May 26. Under the second stage, the nightly curfew is between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. and movement restrictions based on gender and a citizen’s national identity card number or a foreigner’s passport have been lifted after nearly two months of being in effect. Public infrastructure projects and non-metallic mining restarted while sites of social activity, including churches and sports facilities, may open at 25 percent capacity. The use of face masks is mandatory. 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. The next four phases will depend on the rate of contagion, which will be analyzed every two weeks. Panama’s national quarantine began on March 25 without a specified end date.
  • After two days of negotiations, Panama and Costa Rica reached an agreement on May 20 that lifted the foreign cargo restrictions imposed by Costa Rica to allow Panamanian truckers to enter Costa Rica.
  • According to a report by La Estrella de Panamá, 2,532 migrants of different nationalities were stuck in Panama as of May 14 due to border closures across the region, impeding them from continuing their journey north. Of that total, 43 had tested positive for COVID-19 as of mid-May.
  • Panama’s Health Ministry published on May 10 a number of health and safety guidelines that both the public and private sectors must meet when reopening begins. The document outlines that each business will be responsible for creating a special COVID-19 committee to oversee and implement the company’s health and safety measures.
  • Panama went through three weekends in a row of complete quarantine from April 11 through April 26, as mandated by Cortizo. 
  • On March 28, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) allowed the passage of two Florida-bound Holland America cruise ships “under extraordinary conditions and for humanitarian reasons,” after previously stating it would not allow the passage of one of the ships because of positive cases onboard. The decision came after 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.
  • On March 22, the government announced a system to be put in place when/if total quarantine is mandated, restricting people to leave their homes only to buy medicine or food on a schedule according to their national identification card or passport numbers, and people will only be able to be out of the house for up to two hours.
  • On March 19, the government announced that all incoming international flights will be suspended as of March 22 for 30 days. On April 20, the suspension was extended 30 more days starting from April 22. On May 15, officials extended the suspension through June 22. As of 11:59 p.m. March 16, only nationals and foreign residents will be allowed entry, with mandatory quarantine for 14 days. 
  • 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. 

Economic impact and measures

  • On May 4, Cortizo signed a measure passed by Panama’s legislature on March 31 to suspend payments on public services—including electricity, internet, and phone bills—for the next four months. Also on May 4, the president reached an agreement with the Panama Banking Association to institute a moratorium on a number of payments, including mortgages, a variety of loans, and credit cards, until December 31, 2020.
  • Protests erupted across Panama mid-April over the government’s handling of the Panama Solidario program, an initiative Cortizo launched March 27 to collect and distribute funds and resources to Panama’s poorest communities. Demonstrators denounced not having received any aid from the program. On April 29, the president announced that the digital platform for the program would be available starting April 30 for the initial 84,000 citizens who are eligible to receive the money through their national identification cards.
  • On May 15, Panama’s 81 municipalities will close their city halls and lay off 12,000 municipal employees due to lack of operational funding. The decision, announced by the Association of Municipalities of Panama on April 27, will curtail services like local courts, garbage collection, meat processing facilities, and distribution of federal food subsidies.
  • 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. The suspensions are in line with a March 20 executive order that mandates companies suspend worker contracts if a business has to temporarily close, meaning that employees will not be paid but won’t necessarily be fired.
  • Cortizo announced on April 13 that the Panamanian government has secured $1.3 billion in credit lines from multilateral organizations. Panama will receive $500 million from the IMF and an equal amount from the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency 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.
  • April 12 projections by the World Bank show that Panama stands to see a 2 percent GDP contraction this year. Additionally, Moody’s projects that Panama’s public debt will expand to 53 percent of the country’s GDP with the deficit growing 2.2 percent.
  • On March 25, Cortizo announced that banks are postponing mortgage and loan payments until December 31, and on March 24 he said that people who have lost their jobs will not pay utilities or face internet cuts for the next three months.
  • On March 23, Panama City’s Mayor José Luis Fábrega announced that each of the capital’s 23 community councils will get $25,000 in emergency funds.
  • Given that 6 percent of global trade passes through the Canal, financial analysts warn that Panama will feel the impact as the virus continues to affect trade.

Paraguay

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Government response

Economic impact and measures

Peru

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Government response

Economic impact and measures

Puerto Rico

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Government response

  • After Puerto Ricans flocked to newly reopened beaches, rivers, and restaurants during Memorial Day weekend, Vázquez warned on May 25 that the government would institute “more restrictive measures” if residents don’t adhere to the measures outlined in her latest executive order.
  • In a press conference on May 21, Vázquez extended the island-wide curfew between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. through June 15 and announced that most businesses could reopen under a new executive order beginning on May 26. The governor authorized the reopening of businesses such as stores and malls, restaurants, hair salons, houses of worship, and funeral homes––all of which must follow restrictions such as limiting patrons, training employees, and requiring the use of face masks at all times. Puerto Rico began its reopening process on May 4 with the construction and manufacturing sectors. Supermarkets, pharmacies, medical equipment stores, gas stations, hardware stores, car repair shops, and banks have been operating since mid-April. The new mandate relaxes a lockdown first instituted on March 15 and now extended in part four times—on May 21, April 30, April 11, and March 26.
  • On the morning of May 2, a 5.5 magnitude earthquake struck off the southern coast of the island—part of a series of thousands of aftershocks related to the 6.4 magnitude quake in January. A number of structures collapsed as a result, and the government announced that it would have to relocate at least 50 families whose homes were damaged, though Vázquez stated that they will not be placed in shelters to avoid coronavirus contagion. The governor urged residents to remember to wear face masks when evacuating damaged buildings.
  • Vázquez signed an executive order on April 22 granting civil immunity to private and public medical facilities and medical personnel working on the island during the pandemic. The mandate shields against claims of negligence or medical malpractice. The order comes as the Puerto Rican legislature is investigating members of Vázquez’s COVID-19 medical taskforce and Health Department over an attempted $38 million contract to buy overpriced rapid test kits from a construction firm with no experience in producing medical products but with ties to Vázquez’s political party.
  • Public schools and universities transitioned to online learning in mid-March, and the Education Department announced on April 23 that students in kindergarten through twelfth grade will automatically pass the school year as schools will remain closed until at least August.
  • On April 5, Vázquez made face mask usage in public spaces mandatory and ordered businesses to bar the entry of customers not wearing them. 
  • Three weeks after the island confirmed its first cases, Vázquez, with the guidance of her Executive Medical Advisory Committee, instituted a new surveillance system on April 2 to begin tracking individuals who have contact with positive patients. As of April 2, the governor requires all public and private health institutions across the island’s 78 municipalities to report to the Department of Health all positive, negative, and suspected cases along with information about each patient, including place of residence, symptoms, and travel history. A month later, the Health Department had only followed up on a third of all confirmed cases.
  • On March 23, Vázquez ordered all travelers arriving in Puerto Rico, regardless of nationality, to undergo a 14-day quarantine. The announcement came after the U.S. Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) limited all Puerto Rico-bound commercial flights to the San Juan international airport in response to a request from Vázquez to restrict flights to and the use of airports in Puerto Rico to stop tourists from going there and bringing more cases. Vázquez followed up with the FAA on April 8 asking it to bar Puerto Rico-bound flights from six U.S. cities considered to be hotspots of the coronavirus. As of late May, the agency had not granted the request, and on April 28 the Puerto Rican National Guard announced that it will no longer perform any COVID-19 tests on passengers arriving in Puerto Rico.  
  • Though the island’s Democratic presidential primary was first delayed from March 29 until April 26 then postponed indefinitely, a new date was set on May 22 for the vote to take place on July 12
  • In a press conference, Vázquez announced the suspension of cruises entering ports. The governor had already declared an island-wide state of emergency on March 12.

Economic impact and measures

  • In the face of the pandemic, the federally-appointed fiscal control board overseeing Puerto Rico’s finances approved a revised fiscal plan on May 27 that temporarily suspends all cuts to the government’s budget. The board also 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. 
  • On April 22, the U.S. territory received $2.2 billion as part of the CARES Act, the $2 trillion federal economic relief package. Vázquez unveiled her administration’s plan for the federal funds during a press conference on May 14, outlining dozens of programs and incentives 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.” Puerto Ricans are also 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
  • On April 13, Vázquez signed a resolution to place a moratorium on personal loans, car loans, mortgages, and credit cards until 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.
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development assigned the U.S. territory $51 million in federal funds of which $33.6 million will be distributed to the island’s municipalities. 
  • On March 23, Vázquez announced a $787 million financial package to address the economic fallout the virus would have on the island. The package, which at the time of its announcement was the largest one presented by U.S. states and territories, includes a 90-day moratorium on a payments for mortgages, cars, and personal and commercial loans. The local government will also give $1,500 to businesses with 50 employees or fewer that have had to close and don’t qualify for federal aid. More than 170,000 self-employed workers are eligible to receive up to $500. 

Uruguay

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Government response

  • On June 1, the government launched the first phase of the return to in-person classes in 403 schools and 135 high schools after a national suspension on March 13. The next phases of school openings  will take place on June 15 and 29.
  • On May 25, President Luis Lacalle Pou announced new measures agreed to with his Brazilian counterpart in order to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the border city of Rivera. Uruguay’s Ministries of the Interior and Defense will establish four check-points to reduce movement of vehicles and people across the border, and conduct 1,100 random tests.
  • 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.
  • On May 13, the Minister of National Defense Javier García announced that the Armed Forces established 800 check-points and completed 2,300 patrols along the country’s border with Brazil in two months. García indicated that the measures were part of the government’s efforts to protect Uruguayans along the border from contagion.
  • On May 5, the government reached its objective of carrying out over 1,000 tests daily.
  • The government announced on May 5 it will increase health checks on the border with Brazil, 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 all land borders with Brazil on March 22 and then announcing on March 25 the total closing of land, sea, and air borders.
  • 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.
  • Also on April 2, the Supreme Court announced that a suspension on most court cases that was originally set to expire on April 3 will be extended for 30 more days. Only the most urgent cases are proceeding during this time, and offices are open for attention to the public for a limited number of hours per day.
  • On March 30, Interior Minister Jorge Larrañaga announced that police will be posted along national highways starting March 31 to ensure people are not traveling for nonessential purposes.
  • On March 28, the government announced 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.
  • On March 27, the Social Development Ministry announced it will distribute food baskets to roughly 157,000 informal workers and those without social security in April and May.

Economic impact and measures

  • On May 8, the government applied a provisional measure to last through May 31 that widens definitions for access to unemployment benefits and includes workers who were employed from three to five months in the last year instead of just the last six months, as well as education, cultural, and sports professionals whose jobs were affected by the pandemic. Previously, on April 13, the Labor and Social Security Ministry announced the extension until May 31 of an unemployment subsidy, first announced on March 18, from the Social Welfare Bank of Uruguay or employees with partial suspensions working between six and 19 days per month. Before that, on April 2 the government announced that a $154 subsidy to self-employed workers for two months and unemployment benefits worth 25 percent of monthly salaries will be extended through May 31. 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 29, the government announced an investment stimulus plan that includes new tax exemptions for large-scale investments.
  • On 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.
  • A World Bank semiannual April report projects Uruguay’s GDP to contract 2.7 percent in 2020, receding from a 0.2 percent expansion in 2019.
  • On April 4, the government—along with the Central Bank and telecommunications company Antel—announced the implementation of a food plan in which the most economically vulnerable can access a $27 spending bonus via a phone application.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • On March 19, the Uruguayan Central Bank 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.

Venezuela

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Government response

Economic impact and measures

  • 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.
  • The Maduro government will institute price controls for 27 food products over the next 180 days 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.
  • In early April, the UN estimated Venezuela requires $61 million in financing to combat the pandemic domestically. On April 3, Guaidó announced that the United States will be donating $9 million via multilateral organizations.
  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • On March 17, the International Monetary Fund 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 April 20, global oil prices fell again so far that, given the discounts 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: whereas cheap Venezuelan oil used to flood the Colombian black market, now the reverse is true as Venezuelan oil is so scarce and Colombian oil is comparatively cheaper.

*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.