The impact on the region’s economies is already visible. All main stock exchange indexes in Latin America plummeted. Brazil’s Ibovespa, Argentina’s Merval, and Colombia’s Colcap all decreased over 40 percent on March 18, 2020. That comes with bleak forecasts for the economy altogether. By the end of 2019, the 2020 gross domestic products (GDPs) of many Latin American countries were predicted to increase. In the second of half of March 2020, the GDPs of the largest countries in the region were all predicted to either remain the same or decrease by the end of that year. Likewise, the most used Latin American currencies have depreciated between February and March 2020, especially the Brazilian real and the Mexican peso.
One industry that has been particularly affected in the region is tourism. It has been estimated that the spread of COVID-19 could put a total of approximately 2.7 million tourism-related jobs at risk. In Mexico alone, where tourism is estimated to constitute close to nine percent of GDP, 1.7 million people working in the sector are threatened with unemployment. Booking cancellations have been rising, and the fact that the outbreak arrived close to Easter worsens the situation for the industry. In Mexico, nearly half of all April bookings have been cancelled in the previous month, while in Colombia the occupancy rate in hotels had decreased to close to 50 percent as of mid-March. Unsurprisingly, the impact of the coronavirus on traveling will vary according to the duration of the containment measures in force. It has been estimated that in Ecuador there would be a loss of 150 million U.S. dollars if touristic activities remain suspended for a month. In the case of a lockdown for two extra months, the loss is predicted to increase fourfold.
COVID-19 has also started to affect the behavior of consumers in the region. On average, Google searches for Netflix on a Sunday increased 47 percent in Latin America, while web searches for restaurants and movie theaters decreased by 34 and 42 percent respectively. During the first week of March 2020, sales of face masks in Brazil doubled and sales of alcohol-based hand sanitizers skyrocketed over 600 percent. In Argentina, as of the same point in time, sales of antiseptics increased more than 360 percent compared to the first week of March 2019. In Chile, almost half of internet users surveyed in mid-March stated that they had bought alcohol-based sanitizer as a measure of prevention against the novel coronavirus. Furthermore, events like Chile’s referendum on a new constitution and Brazil’s 2020 census have already been postponed.
Concerns about COVID-19 in Latin America add to the burden of fighting other plagues. Diseases such as dengue, zika, and chikungunya — all mainly spread through the bite of mosquitoes of the Aedes type — have been challenging the region for decades. In 2019, the number of dengue cases in Latin America and the Caribbean increased by more than 450 percent compared to the previous year. Meanwhile, the number of deaths caused by dengue fever increased over 350 percent. Another preexisting problem is the structural limitations of each country’s health system. Mexico’s epidemiological surveillance budget has declined throughout the last decade, for instance, as well as the number of hospital beds in Brazil. Altogether, these issues indicate that, as COVID-19 continue to spread across the region, decisions on access to health services will have to be made with surgical precision.