From Covid Disaster to Steep Case Drop, Pandemic Eases in Peru


Despite one of the world’s highest Covid death rates -- or perhaps because of it -- Peru is seeing a sudden steep drop in new cases, leading a top government epidemiologist to predict a massive improvement in the coming weeks.

The specialist, Cesar Munayco, said by phone that the change seems attributable to two things: many of the country’s most vulnerable have already succumbed, and the rest of the population is so terrified that they’re taking precautions they had initially avoided.

“There’s been a change,” said Munayco, deputy director of Peru’s center for disease control and prevention. “Now, everyone is using face masks. Most people have seen relatives or friends die as the epidemic grew. A lot of people have already been infected, and now what we see is that curve is declining.”

The virus, which is still killing about 180 Peruvians a day, swept through large areas of Lima, home to 11 million, and other big cities, overwhelming hospitals. Those now most at risk are in less heavily populated and more rural areas.

New infections are suddenly falling. The data suggest the outbreak will be under control within weeks, Munayco said, even though the government ended stay-at-home restrictions in most of the country two weeks ago.

At the peak on June 1, Peru saw more than 9,000 new infections daily. Peru took strict and early precautions with quarantines and public subsidies for workers forced to stay home, winning praise abroad. But the informal workforce was far too large and many Peruvians left their homes to earn money to feed their families, infecting one another and ultimately overwhelming an underfunded public health system.

The number of people developing symptoms fell below 1,000 last week, and on July 13 was just 36 per day, according to data provided by Munayco. The Health Ministry reports cases based on the date of diagnosis, which doesn’t yet reflect the drop in the number of people showing symptoms, he said.

From Covid Disaster to Steep Case Drop, Pandemic Eases in Peru

At almost 334,000, Peru has the second-highest tally of cases in Latin America, where total infections have topped 3.74 million. Of the 150,000 fatalities in the region, 8% -- or 12,000 -- have been in Peru, giving it one of the globe’s highest per capita fatality rates.

In fact, the real mortality figure is probably at least twice that, and the government has formed a team to speed up the process of confirming suspected cases. About 6,900 additional deaths are listed as Covid suspicious by Peru’s CDC. The death registry lists a further 16,000 suspicious deaths of which the “large majority” may eventually be attributed to the virus, Munayco said.

Elsewhere in Latin America:

  • Of all the companies around the world affected by Covid-19, none has disclosed a worse death toll than Pemex. Mexico’s state-owned oil producer said late Tuesday that 202 employees and five contractors have died of the disease so far.
  • After losing two health ministers in under a month, Brazil has been without a top doctor to guide the nation’s covid response since mid-May. President Jair Bolsonaro has started considering names as pressure builds to fill the post, Estadao de S.Paulo newspaper reported. Meanwhile, results from Bolsonoro’s latest test are expected soon after he was diagnosed with the coronavirus last week.
  • As the Americas remains the epicenter of the global pandemic, it’s also home to a few nations and territories that are now Covid-free. According to the Pan American Health Organization, there are 10 jurisdictions in the Americas -- all of them small islands in the Caribbean and Atlantic -- that have no active coronavirus cases.
  • Without a vaccine, Brazil’s Bahia state said its famed Carnival celebrations may be canceled. Sao Paulo’s state government echoed that concern, indicating that mega New Years Eve and Carnival parties are also at risk.
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