Operations: Regional context
The number of new COVID-19 confirmed infections in the region reached 80,000 in September, with Costa Rica having the highest number (26,660). Since the beginning of the pandemic, Panama has exceeded 110,000 positive COVID-19 cases, and Guatemala has the highest number of deaths in the region (3,246). In addition, the rainy season is raising alarms on the potential increase in malaria, dengue, and leptospirosis cases, which will add to the existing COVID-19 outbreak and hit the already strained national health systems. In Nicaragua, indigenous communities report lack of information on COVID-19 in their language, absence of health personnel, and lack of facilities and medical supplies including masks.
Violence and persecution at the hands of gangs continues to affect northern Central America. In El Salvador, at least 18 families were forcibly displaced during lockdown, according to data from humanitarian organizations. In Honduras, civil society highlighted the increased protection risks for the LGBTI+ community, especially youth, who are not able to leave their homes when facing abuse by their families, due mobility restrictions. In Guatemala, extortions are on the rise, and the Ministry of Interior and the Centre of National Economic Studies expect them to exceed those reported in 2019. 80% of extortion calls are made from within maximum security prisons, according to the National Civil Police.
As COVID-19 restrictions are progressively lifting across the region, cross-border movements from northern Central America are rising. Large groups of people from Honduras have convened and headed north at the end of September, and further such movements are likely in the near future. On the other hand, schools and universities are resuming the academic year interrupted due to COVID-19. Closure of schools has deprived many refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced girls and boys not only of education, but also of basic social and psychological support, child protection services, and, for many, access to school feeding programs.
UNHCR and partners continue to provide assistance to persons of concern, and to advance on community-based interventions to ensure continuity of humanitarian access in prioritized high-risk communities affected by the increasing levels of violence in northern Central America. UNHCR, through partners, also promotes initiatives that analyse the impact of COVID-19 in women and LGBTI+ community. Programmes to improve the identification and referral of SGBV cases have been reinforced and alliances have been achieved with local authorities and public entities to advance on the protection of children and women.