Bolivia healthcare workers launch strike in COVID-hit region

Workers in Santa Cruz begin 48-hour strike to demand stricter lockdown measures amid surge in coronavirus cases.

Medical workers hold a sign that reads 'The hospital is collapsed' as they attend a protest demanding a rigid quarantine, in La Paz, on January 27, 2021 [David Mercado/Reuters]

Healthcare workers in a region of Bolivia hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic launched a 48-hour strike on Tuesday, as they try to pressure authorities to impose a strict lockdown to combat rising infections.

The country has recorded more than 229,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 10,800 coronavirus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s most populous and prosperous region, has registered nearly 80,000 cases and more than 5,000 deaths to date, according to official figures.

Edil Toledo, the acting president of the Santa Cruz Medical College, told Spanish news agency EFE that Santa Cruz “is the epicentre” of the pandemic in Bolivia.

“Every hour there are between 30 to 40 cases. Every hour a patient dies. The situation in Santa Cruz is worrisome,” Toledo said.

With hospitals overwhelmed with patients, Toledo said doctors had met with local officials more than a dozen times to demand more drastic measures to rein in infections – such as imposing stay-at-home orders or halting public transportation – but they failed to reach an agreement.

Chanting and waving signs, hundreds of healthcare workers marched in the streets of Santa Cruz towards the regional government office as the strike kicked off on Tuesday.

Emergency healthcare workers and hospitals treating COVID-19 patients were reportedly not part of the strike, but all other medical procedures, including specialist care, have been suspended.

The Bolivian government has been reluctant to put more measures in place amid an economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

It is hoping that its vaccination campaign will get the pandemic under control.

More than 8,000 people have been vaccinated so far, according to the Bolivian health ministry, most of them health workers.

A healthcare worker receiving a dose of the Sputnik V vaccine in El Alto, outskirts of La Paz, Bolivia [File: David Mercado/Reuters]

In January, Bolivia received an initial 20,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, out of a total of 5.3 million planned doses.

It also expects to receive about one million vaccine doses in March through COVAX, a World Health Organization programme to ensure equitable access to vaccines.

The COVAX programme aims to deliver 1.3 billion vaccine doses to 92 eligible low- and middle-income nations in 2021, though it faces potential delays.

Bolivia also is expected to receive another five million doses in April of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, local media has reported.

The government has said this would be enough to vaccinate the country’s 11.5 million people.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies