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Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Latin America - statistics & facts

A specter is haunting Latin America: the specter of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes the disease known as COVID-19. Brazil, the largest country in the region, is also home to the largest number of cases. It was also in Brazil that the first case of COVID-19 in Latin America was confirmed, on February 26 of the same year. When it comes to the number of deaths caused by the disease, Brazil ranks second in the world. The COVID-19 disease has proved highly fatal in Peru as well as in Brazil, both registering some of the highest death rates per one million inhabitants in the world.

Economic impact in Latin America

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 succumbed to the financial chaos caused by a region-wide lockdown. By the end of 2019, the 2020 gross domestic products (GDPs) of many Latin American countries were predicted to increase. By mid-2020, the GDPs of the largest countries in the region were all predicted to decrease by the end of that year. Likewise, the most used Latin American currencies lost value against the U.S. dollar, 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 has worsened the situation for the industry. In Mexico, nearly half of all April bookings were cancelled in March, while in Colombia the occupancy rate in hotels had decreased to close to 50 percent as of that month. With containment measures lasting well into the austral spring, it has been estimated that countries like Ecuador could lose the most part of its tourism revenues for the year.

Consumer behavior

COVID-19 has also affected 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.

Coronavirus: is that all there is?

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.

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