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IFRC concerned about impact of Hurricane Eta on coronavirus transmission

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Hurricane Eta has caused deadly destruction across Central America and the Caribbean. The Red Cross across the region is responding. © Costa Rican Red Cross

The Red Cross, working in every country in the region, is supporting thousands of people affected by the heavy rains and floods caused by Hurricane Eta.

Eta tore across parts of Central America after in made landfall in Nicaragua on 3 November as a category 4 Hurricane. Though it was downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved towards Honduras and Guatemala, constant rains and powerful winds have caused flooding and devastation across the region, including dozens of deadly landslides. Belize, Cost Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua have all been significantly affected.

Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes with flooding and landslides causing severe damage across the region. It is thought the storm has claimed the lives of more than 200 people, though the true figure could be much higher as many people remain missing.

As families struggle to come to terms with what has happened, concerns are mounting about the impact this disaster will have on coronavirus transmissions.

COVID-19 prevention measures, such as regular hand washing and social distancing, will almost certainly be made more difficult in evacuation shelters, in overcrowded family homes or other safe places people have moved to.

“There are thousands of homeless people, in temporary refuges or shelters facing many vulnerabilities. Right now, preventing the spread of COVID-19 is essential despite the enormous challenges of the emergency. It is not unlikely that we will witness a significant increase in cases in the coming weeks, due to the difficulty of applying public health measures in such a complex context,” Dr María Tallarico, IFRC Health Coordinator in the Americas, warns.

Thousands of Red Cross volunteers across the region are assisting families affected by floods, supporting evacuations and search and rescue, providing first aid and psychosocial support, as well as transporting people safely to hospital. These same volunteers have been supporting communities to stay safe during the pandemic.

“Red Cross National Societies face the difficult task of responding to these deadly rains and floods as well as COVID-19. Volunteers are being provided with the necessary personal protection equipment and will continue to support communities with prevention and protection measures. It is important now that these measures are not only maintained but increased in order to reduce possible transmissions”, Dr Maria continues.

Red Cross National Societies, with the support of the IFRC in the region, are already distributing hygiene kits to displaced people, these include masks and hand sanitizer. Volunteers are also talking to families about how to stay safe during this time.

The IFRC is recommending that all response must consider the need for heightened prevention measures against the virus, as well as other communicable diseases, such as Zika, that commonly increase during and after floods.

“We urge people to ensure that they continue to follow health advice, wear masks and wash or disinfect their hands as regularly as possible, use safe water to avoid diarrhea and other infections due to contaminated water, protect girls and boys and monitor the emergence of respiratory or skin diseases. Our Red Cross staff and volunteers are on the ground helping and supporting these tasks,” Dr Maria says

The Red Cross is also urging people to continue to consider personal protection measures such as wearing masks and washing their hands as often as possible. Assessments are underway to evaluate the damage caused by the storm. The immediate concerns are ensuring people have access to clean water, food and safe shelter.

It may be days or even week before the true extent of the damage is known, but constant rains even after the storm has passed, means that strong currents and landslides continue to destroy homes, farmland and sadly, to take lives.

This devastation comes at a time when many communities in the region are already deeply affected by the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

The long-term effects of this disaster threatens to push communities already struggling to cope, over the edge.

“The long-term effects of this climate disaster will push communities already struggling to cope with the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, over the edge. The IFRC has launched and appeal and will continue to work alongside the National Societies responding, to ensure that no one is left behind.”

The IFRC has launched a regional emergency appeal to cover three countries, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. The IFRC is seeking 20m CHF to support 75,000 people cross these three countries for the next 18 months. It also continues to support other countries affected, including Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama, working closely with the National Societies responding. The IFRC in the region continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.