Three months after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Brazil on 26 February, South America has become the new epicentre of the pandemic, according to WHO. By 26 May, over 800,000 cases had been reported in all 36 countries and territories of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), with more than 43,000 deaths, over 50 per cent of them in Brazil.a The pandemic is expanding rapidly throughout the region. It took two months to reach 200,000 cases, but less than two weeks to nearly double that number.
Most LAC countries are currently in the stage of accelerating community spreadb and a few appear to have reached a stage of stable low levels of infections (mainly Caribbean countries and territories). By 26 May, six Caribbean countries and territories reported not having active cases (Anguilla, Belize, Dominica, Montserrat, St. Lucia, St. Kitts & Nevis).c Early testing, treatment and prevention measures, strong leadership and the overall public commitment, have been key for this achievement. The socioeconomic short and mid-term impacts of COVID-19 in these nations’ families is worrisome as their income depends mostly on tourism.
Structural characteristics of LAC countries such as poverty, informal economies and proliferation of crowded urban settlements, make the region more vulnerable to the pandemic. Test are scarce in some countries and the number of test performed varies from country to country, these factors may distort the understanding of the dimensions of the crisis in the region.
COVID-19 is as much a health emergency as a threat to the economic and social wellbeing of countries, communities and families, even if not directly affected by the disease. Most of the governments have extended lockdowns, school closure, and ceasing of all but essential economic activities.
There is a risk of increased disease and mortality due to conditions other than COVID19. Modelling by Johns Hopkins University shows that without urgent action to preserve the provision and access to essential health services and food, an estimated additional 52,000 children and 4,000 mothers in the region might die in the next six months, due to reductions in routine health service coverage levels and increased child wasting.d
In 23 countries and 12 independent states, over 141 million childrene are temporarily out of school and many of them are affected by the interruption of services such as school feeding. As 50 per cent of the labour force in the region is informal,f millions have lost their source of income and depend on humanitarian assistance. In a region with 14 countries among the 25 with the highest femicide rates globally, home-based quarantine in LAC has put many women and children at heightened risk of domestic and sexual violence. In countries such as Colombia, femicides have tripled, while the number of reports to domestic violence hotlines has increased between 40 and 90 per cent (i.e. in Chile, Colombia, Mexico).g
Other ongoing crises have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 context, including the humanitarian situation in Haiti, the socio-economic challenges in Venezuela, the Venezuela migration crisis affecting 17 countries in LAC, and the ongoing flow of migrants trough Central America and Mexico borders, amongst other situations. With most countries closing their borders for travellers, and migration through irregular channels increasing, migrants are risking deportation or refoulement. Many migrants are stranded in host countries with limited access to health services and food, facing increased xenophobia and discrimination. Moreover, in some countries, large groups of migrants and internally displaced people are trying to return to their places of origin to reunite with their families, while local governments are struggling to manage this situation.
Civil unrest and security issues are on the rise in countries with an already fragile context, due to the socio-economic situation and exacerbated vulnerabilities. These situations may impact UNICEF’s and partners humanitarian access and operations in the short and mid-term.