Bolivia strains under coronavirus pandemic as cases top 10,000

Experts worry the easing of a lockdown meant to stem the virus’s spread could spark a rise in cases.

People wearing face masks on the first day of eased coronavirus disease restrictions in La Paz, Bolivia [David Mercado/Reuters]
People wearing face masks on the first day of eased coronavirus disease restrictions in La Paz, Bolivia [David Mercado/Reuters]

Bolivian authorities are doing door-to-door checks in regions with severe coronavirus outbreaks as it looks to stem the spread of COVID-19 infections which have risen above 10,000, even as the country eases quarantine measures that have hammered growth.

The landlocked country registered its first novel coronavirus infections on March 10, and until May 21 had reached 5,000 cases. That has since quickly doubled, government data shows.

“It’s very saddening to see the number of infections we have each day,” said Ignacia Castedo, an elderly woman from Trinidad, one of the worst-hit cities in the country.

“So many people are dying who had families or who left orphaned children behind. It is a great sadness.”

Latin America has become a global epicentre for the pandemic, with countries like Brazil, Mexico, Peru and Chile recording high numbers of cases.

In Bolivia, a country of around 11.7 million people, the government is now easing a lockdown that was aimed at curbing the disease’s spread to allow the economy to revive, though experts worry this could lead to a rise in cases.

“The threat of a flexible quarantine in cities is that it could start an accelerated and possibly explosive epidemic,” national epidemiology chief, Virgilio Prieto, told reporters.

To curb contagions in the worst-affected regions of Beni and Santa Cruz, medical teams, police and soldiers have gone “house to house” to find infected people, with the aim of transferring them to isolation centres and hospitals.

Out of the national total of 10,531 patients, Beni and Santa Cruz, in eastern Bolivia, together have 8,903. There have been 343 recorded deaths nationwide.

People line up to enter a market in La Paz, Bolivia [David Mercado/Reuters] 

Ronald Tapia, who lives in the highland city of La Paz, said people’s livelihoods had been hit hard by the lockdown, and he was going to make use of the relaxed rules to earn some money in case the quarantine was tightened again.

“There are people who live just day-to-day, not everyone can support themselves,” he said. “At least let’s work these two weeks, so if we do return to a rigid quarantine, we will have a little more money to feed ourselves.”

Meanwhile, Bolivia’s electoral tribunal said on Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with the country’s political parties to hold general elections delayed by the coronavirus pandemic by September 6, a key step to bringing political stability to the country.

The election is a rerun of a contentious vote late last year which prompted nationwide protests and led to the resignation of longtime leader Evo Morales. The repeat ballot had been originally planned for May 3.

Source : Reuters

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