{"code":"24704","sect":"Centroam\u00e9rica","sect_slug":"centroamerica","hits":"536","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/en\/202008\/centroamerica\/24704","link_edit":"","name":"Guatemala Opens Economy as the Country Bumbles COVID-19 Response","slug":"guatemala-opens-economy-as-the-country-bumbles-covid-19-response","info":"","mtag":"Politics","noun":{"html":"Jeff Abbot","data":{"jeff-abbot":{"sort":"","slug":"jeff-abbot","path":"jeff_abbot","name":"Jeff Abbot","edge":"0","init":"0"}}},"view":"536","pict":{"cms-image-000034212-jpg":{"feat":"1","sort":"34212","name":"cms-image-000034212.jpg","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034212.jpg","path":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034212.jpg","back":"","slug":"cms-image-000034212-jpg","text":"<p>Workers wear face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, at the textile plant K.P.Textil in San Miguel Petapa, 20 km south of Guatemala City, on July 10, 2020. - Employees of the textile plant returned to work after more than a month-long quarantine related to a COVID-19 outbreak involving dozen of workers, implementing new safety protocols to prevent the spread of the virus. (Photo by Johan ORDONEZ \/ AFP)<\/p>","capt":"\u003Cp\u003EWorkers wear face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, at the textile plant K.P.Textil in San Miguel Petapa, 20 km south of Guatemala City, on July 10, 2020. - Employees of the textile plant returned to work after more than a month-long quarantine related to a COVID-19 outbreak involving dozen of workers, implementing new safety protocols to prevent the spread of the virus. (Photo by Johan ORDONEZ \/ AFP)\u003C\/p\u003E"}},"pict_main__sort":34212,"date":{"live":"2020\/08\/07"},"data_post_dateLive_YY":"2020","data_post_dateLive_MM":"08","data_post_dateLive_DD":"07","text":"\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe streets of Guatemala City appear almost normal. On the first weekend of eased coronavirus restrictions, the Sexta Avenida, which is lined by shops and restaurants in the City\u2019s historic center, was filled with people returning to shopping and strolling, while others took to the roads across the country to visit loved ones and travel to the beaches 130 kilometers from the city, leading to the first major traffic jams in four months.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EYet according to the Guatemalan government\u2019s new health alert system, Guatemala City and many other municipalities remain on the highest alert level due to the pandemic. The country is opening even as it continues to suffer from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, Guatemala has registered over 51,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19, resulting in over 2,000 deaths.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003ECases have been on the rise, with nearly 13,000 cases confirmed in the last two weeks, as well as 344 deaths. Experts and public health officials are afraid that the premature reopening of the economy will lead to an explosion of the virus across the country.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E\u201cRelaxing measures in the middle of an increase of cases and deaths, without fully enabling the five temporary hospitals, and having the national, departamental, and regional hospitals saturated, means we will have more mobility, an increase in cases,\u201d Lucrecia Hern\u00e1ndez Mack, congressional representative with the centrist Semilla Party and former Health Minister, told El Faro. Following the first cases, the Giammattei administration announced the construction of five field hospitals to treat patients infected with coronavirus. \u201cWe are going to see an increase of cases in the rest of the country. The response has been fatal.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EA week prior to the opening, the Giammattei administration announced on July 26th that the country would begin the slow opening of the economy after over four months of restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The easing of measures permits public buses to begin running with decreased capacity, businesses and shopping centers to open, and religious groups to begin holding services.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EThe opening comes as the Health Ministry began to implement a Health Alert System in each municipality to permit the opening of the country. Similar to the system in Mexico, Guatemala\u2019s alert system denotes the risk of infection by Red, Orange, Yellow, and Green. But as Hern\u00e1ndez Mack points out, unlike the Mexican system, there is no clear division of what ministries are responsible for guaranteeing the enforcement of the restrictions associated with each level, and little methodology based in public health to denote the levels.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EAccording to Hern\u00e1ndez Mack, only public transportation has clearly articulated structures for reopening.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E\u201cFor the rest [of the sectors] no one knows who is responsible for guaranteeing they comply,\u201d Hern\u00e1ndez Mack said.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EWhile Guatemala was one of the countries with the quickest responses aimed at containing the spread of the virus in March, the months since have seen an approach plagued by a lack of testing, accusations of corruption, and general incompetence stemming from the Giammattei administration\u2019s centralized response. The fact that the panorama of the impacts of the virus are not fully recognized means that the country\u2019s already overwhelmed health care system is poised to face greater pressures. The lack of clarity and establishment of rules for reopening mean that chaos could be on the horizon.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E\u201cWe do not have reliable data,\u201d Hern\u00e1ndez Mack said. \u201cBut we know [cases] are increasing rapidly. Supposedly the relaxing of measures should occur when they are lowering, but we are on the maximum alert and the measures are being relaxed.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EFor doctors on the front line, the new measures are reminiscent of the last time restrictions were relaxed.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E\u201cThe cases have been increasing a lot,\u201d Doctor Zagreb Zea, who has worked for 16 years in the Guatemalan public health care system and is the current president of the Roosevelt Hospital directive council, said. \u201cAt the beginning, the measures were good in March and April. But after April, we saw the first spike as people began to leave [their homes]..\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E---\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EThough Guatemala\u2019s health care system has been overwhelmed by the pandemic, has long suffered from lack of funding.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E\u201cWith Covid, we have uncovered the neglect that has been for years on the part of the previous governments,\u201d Doctor Zea said. \u201cAnd the disinterest in [supporting health care]. If the pandemic happened in 2024, the excuse would be the same: \u2018We were not prepared;\u2019 \u2018It was a collapsed health care system,\u2019 and \u2018he other governments didn\u2019t leave a quality healthcare system.\u2019\u201d\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EAccording to the World Health Organization, Guatemala has one of the \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.prensalibre.com\/guatemala\/comunitario\/guatemala-tiene-una-ineficiente-inversion-en-salud\/\"\u003Elowest rates\u003C\/a\u003E of investment into the public health system in Latin America. The country also has one of the \u003Ca href=\"http:\/\/www.scielo.org.mx\/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0036-36342011000800015\"\u003Elowest ratios\u003C\/a\u003E of doctors to population in Latin America, with only 0.4 doctors for every 1000 citizens.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EFurthermore, until last year, doctors in the public health care system were insufficiently paid for their work. After a struggle led by medical staff, they managed to gain an increase in pay in 2019.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EThe virus has hit Guatemalan doctors and medics hard. Since March, at least 31 medical professionals from both the public and private hospitals have died as a result of the virus.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E\u201cThere is frustration with everything happening right now with [the health] emergency and the government,\u201d Doctor Zea said. \u201cBut there is also sadness for all our colleagues who have lost loved ones and for those colleagues we have lost. But we are not tired physically or mentally.\u201d\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EThe uphill battle to treat an unprecedented swell of patients in a neglected health care system has exhausted doctors and medical personnel. But they remain dedicated to treating the patients who arrive at public hospitals.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EAt the beginning of the pandemic, the Guatemalan congress approved over US$2 billion in loans for the response to the pandemic. The approval made US$83.5 million available to the 5 temporary hospitals built to treat COVID-19 infections and the Specialized National Hospital in Villa Nueva. However, in over four months, the Health Ministry has only utilized 15 percent of the temporary field hospitals\u2019 budget, all while the families of patients must pay for medicine, oxygen, and other medical necessities.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003ENor are the temporary hospitals fully operational: they have far lower capacity than the administration had stated, and over half of the contracted doctors and nurses at the Parque de Industria temporary hospital in Guatemala City have not been paid.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EOn multiple occasions doctors have pleaded with the Health Ministry to come and observe the conditions they are working under, but according to Doctor Zea, they have not arrived.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E\u201cAnd there are only three blocks between the Health Ministry and the Roosevelt Hospital,\u201d he said.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EAs the country continues to deal with a collapsed health care system, the true scope of the virus remains difficult to grasp. There have been long-standing issues getting an accurate number of cases due to significant disparities in the country\u2019s testing. At one point, Doctor Edwin Asturias, who heads Guatemala\u2019s Presidential COVID-19 Response Commission, claimed that the number of cases could be as high as 100,000.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EEfforts have been made to expand testing. On July 30, Doctor Asturias \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/twitter.com\/easturia\/status\/1288932576388882434\"\u003Epraised the\u003C\/a\u003E country in a tweet for reaching 5000 tests in a single day. Since then, the number of tests performed per day has fallen significantly.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EAs of August 1st, Guatemala has performed over 160,000 tests since March. Of those, the vast majority have occurred in the central region of the country, including the departments of Guatemala, Sacatepequez, and Chimaltenango. The department of Guatemala alone accounts for over 60 percent of all tests.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EAccording to the data, over half of Guatemala\u2019s 340 municipalities have performed less than 200 tests, with several performing as few as only one to three. Yet in spite of this, many of the municipalities do not fully know the state of the pandemic within the communities.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E\u201cThere are municipalities that are beginning to be affected,\u201d Hern\u00e1ndez Mack said, \u201cbut there is nowhere to get tested.\u201d\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E---\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EIn spite of the problems and obvious dangers, the country has begun to reopen. The easing of measures comes after the Guatemalan business community - \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.prensalibre.com\/economia\/coronavirus-el-cacif-pide-reabrir-la-economia-la-proxima-semana-breaking\/\"\u003Eincluding the\u003C\/a\u003E\u00a0Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations (CACIF) - and some Evangelical and Catholic groups began lobbying the presidency and Congress.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E\u201cThe President gave in to special interests groups,\u201d Hern\u00e1ndez Mack said.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EBut the measures also come after the government\u2019s relief efforts largely failed to reach those most affected by the measures to contain the virus, especially in the informal economy.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E\u201cNone of the programs meant to help the people arrived,\u201d she explained. \u201cThe people had to go out with their \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.theguardian.com\/global-development\/2020\/may\/22\/guatemala-white-flags-hunger-coronavirus\"\u003Ewhite flags\u003C\/a\u003E to search for work, because if they don\u2019t, they won\u2019t survive.\u201d\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EAcross Guatemala people began to take to the streets holding white flags as a sign of need, a practice \u003Ca href=\"\/en\/202007\/el_salvador\/24627\/The-White-Flag-of-Hunger.htm\"\u003Ealso seen in El Salvador\u003C\/a\u003E.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EWhile some municipalities, an Evangelical association, and the \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.soy502.com\/articulo\/diocesis-huehuetenango-senala-irresponsable-abrir-iglesias-100931\"\u003Eparts\u003C\/a\u003E of the Catholic Church, announced that they would not renew public transportation or hold services due to the continued threat of the virus, the countrywide response has been one that has subordinated the public healthcare system to the will of the executive branch.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003EIn regards to the crisis, Doctor Zea said, \u201cI think this government is incompent.\u201d\u00a0\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E"}