Covid-19 wrap | Guatemala angry at US, and Latin American coronavirus beacons of hope

2020-05-22 08:56

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis.

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Guatemala blasts Trump over virus-infected migrant deportations

Guatemala blasted US President Donald Trump on Thursday over US deportations of migrants infected with coronavirus.

President Alejandro Giammattei said the deportations had saturated quarantine centres in Guatemala and heaped pressure on the Central American country's weak health system.

"Guatemala is an ally to the United States, the United States is not an ally to Guatemala," he told the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based international affairs think tank.

"We understand that the United States wants to deport people, we understand that, but what we don't understand is that they send us contaminated flights."

Among Guatemala's 2 000 coronavirus cases, authorities say 100 were migrants deported from the US.

"It's fine that they send us the deportees, they're our problem, for sure, but also the United States' problem. So we should share the problem, we need to be fair," said Giammattei, 64, a doctor by profession.

He also hit out at the US failure to send Guatemala medical supplies.

"We see how the United States has helped other countries, including with ventilators, we've not even had a cob of corn," Giammattei complained.

In a statement following Giammattei's comments, the US embassy in Guatemala listed the ways it said the United States was helping Guatemala.

These include a commitment of $2.4 million for the country to use "to mitigate the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak" via clinical care, public health screenings at border entry points, and medical supplies.


A world redrawn: Top Spain chef sees fewer restaurants, more home cooking

When the pandemic struck, top chef Ferran Adria was in the final phases of preparing to reopen his world-famous El Bulli restaurant nine years after it closed.

Although the rest of the world ground to a halt, this highly-decorated Catalan chef has been using the lockdown to work around the clock to ensure the August opening goes ahead as planned.

And when it does, the newly-transformed restaurant which held three Michelin stars, will reopen as a creativity laboratory to foster inventions in both gastronomy and other areas.

But for this Spanish master of molecular cuisine, the virus has caused "a lot of grief" for the sector, even if it has transformed many people's relationship with their own kitchens at home, he said.

"It's a brutal situation, a real tragedy," he admitted, saying the crisis had silenced all other debates raging within the sector.

"Now the question is: if I'm solvent, I will be able to open my business. If I'm not, I won't."

After being shuttered for months, restaurants now face tough, restrictive conditions for reopening, with new norms limiting capacity and social distancing, which could spell disaster for many, he said.


Uruguay and Costa Rica: beacons of Latin American virus success

In Latin America, a region experiencing ever-increasing growth in the number of coronavirus infections and deaths, Uruguay and Costa Rica stand out as success stories.

Despite never declaring a general lockdown, Uruguay had recorded 749 cases and 20 deaths by Thursday among a population of 3.4 million.

In Costa Rica there have been just 903 cases and 10 deaths in a country of five million.

The numbers don't lie, and the outbreak in Uruguay "is currently under control", said epidemiologist Julio Vignolo, citing the country's rapid response.

The same day that Uruguay recorded its first four cases, 13 March, the government declared a health emergency, shuttering schools and closing borders.

The government also encouraged voluntary isolation, which was widely adopted in a country with low population density.

Intensive care units have spare beds and the health system has never come close to creaking, let alone collapsing.

On Thursday, President Luis Lacalle Pou announced schools will resume classes in June, saying "we are convinced that the risk is minimal."

Uruguay's reproduction number - the rate of infection - is 0.74, according to a model developed by engineer Andres Ferragut and mathematician Ernesto Mordecki, who are working with the government as advisors. Anything under 1.0 means the infection is under control.

"In an ideal world" that means the virus will disappear from the country, Ferragut said.

"It depends on a ton of things: the natural contagiousness of the virus but also societal behaviour and the measures taken."

On 29 March visits to cafés, theatres and shopping centres were down 75%, while visits to parks, beaches and public squares were down 79%, according to a report by Google Mobility.


'It has even changed death': Virus disrupts burials in Turkey

In normal times, almost 200 people would have attended the funeral for Ahmet Ucukcu's 95-year-old father at an Istanbul cemetery.

The coronavirus which took his life has changed all that.

"Many of my relatives wouldn't come except for close family members and his sons who were authorised to attend only," said Ucukcu.

"We are just six or seven people."

The scaled-down ceremony took place at a cemetery in the city's Beykoz district on the Asian side, which was built in March when Turkey confirmed its first virus case.

It already houses the remains of over 700 people who died of contagious diseases including Covid-19.

Ucukcu lost his father Ali to the virus after the old man was treated for 10 days. He also suffered from chronic illnesses.

Gathered around the grave, Ucukcu and his close family - all wearing protective masks and standing a few paces from each other - say prayers after the coffin is buried.

Before the pandemic a shroud would suffice.

Only an hour earlier, the group were at a nearby morgue where the body was washed by personnel in hazmat suits before being wrapped in cloth and placed in a coffin.

A small collective prayer was then held outside the morgue with those attending respecting social distancing rules.

The imam - also in a hazmat suit - led the funeral prayers for the deceased before the coffin was taken by hearse to the Beykoz cemetery.

Ayhan Koc, head of Istanbul's cemeteries department, said a fast burial without traditional Islamic rituals was an efficient and correct method given the current situation.

He said in the past there would have been a funeral prayer after the midday and afternoon prayers but now the aim was to ensure a speedy burial, without even taking the body to the mosque.

The government shut down mosques in March for mass prayers as part of efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

And rituals are no longer allowed where people visit the family of the deceased to offer their condolences and where verses from the Koran are recited.


Coronavirus fails to halt conflict in DR Congo's powder-keg east

Coronavirus has swiftly gained status as the world's No 1 threat but in eastern DR Congo, one of Africa's most volatile regions, militia killings and ethnic violence are an older and - for now - far greater source of dread.

Some 2 000km distant from the capital Kinshasa, this beautiful region bordering Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi has been a notorious flashpoint since the Congo Wars of the 1990s.

"The Covid-19 crisis must not make us forget the atrocities which are taking place in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo," 2018 Nobel peace laureate Denis Mukwege said on Tuesday.

In the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu, "civilians are being massacred," he said.

"In South Kivu, Rwandan and Burundian armies are battling armed groups in the high plateaus of Minembwe, destroying everything in their wake," Mukwege said.

"And in Tanganyika, the Zambians who had until now had good neighbourly relations with DR Congo... recently invaded our territory."

Mukwege co-won the coveted prize for his treatment in helping women raped by armed rebels in South Kivu.

The Kivu Security Tracker, an NGO which documents bloodshed in the two Kivu provinces, said March was one of the least violent months it had recorded - 47 deaths against 87 on average.

"But since then, the violence has resumed," an expert with the group said. April saw 85 civilian deaths and 60 incidents, which was higher than the average of 51.

Since November, more than 400 civilians have been butchered in North Kivu province by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a mainly Muslim militia.

In Ituri province, nearly 300 civilians have been killed and around 200 000 have fled their homes since March.

The authorities blame the crisis on a political-religious sect called the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (Codeco).

The organisation is mainly drawn from the Lendu ethnic group, who are predominantly farmers and clash repeatedly with the Hema community of traders and herders.

North Kivu and Ituri are also hosting an epidemic of Ebola, which has killed 2 279 people since August 2018.

Militia violence has badly hampered the effort to end the outbreak, which depends on grassroots work to isolate cases and trace people who have been in contact with them.

Nearly 1 600 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in the DRC, but fewer than two dozen have occurred in the east.


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Read more on:    guatemala  |  turkey  |  costa rica  |  uruguay  |  coronavirus

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