Against COVID-19: Hammer or Squeaky Chipote?

31 2020 August
Mauren esquivel

The strategy followed by our countries in the face of the pandemic has consisted mainly of “flattening the curve”. That is, to reduce the speed of transmission of COVID-19 so as not to saturate the capacity of health systems, through measures of distancing and social isolation, including border closures, vehicle restrictions and control of citizens' freedom of movement. . This stage of confinement is what I can has dubbed the Hammer. On March 22, Pueyo mentioned that “We need harsh and immediate measures to attack the Coronavirus. You only need to apply them for a few weeks. There will not be a spike in infections later. If we do not adopt these measures, there will be millions of infected, many will need intensive care and many will die because the health system will have collapsed. These measures can be implemented at a reasonable cost to society. "

Five months after Pueyo's article, analyzing a mobility index of people provided by Facebook, which measures the variation in mobility of people with respect to the month of March through the information sent by cell phones. It can be seen that indeed many countries resorted to containment to control the transmissibility of the virus. By continents, Europe reaches its minimum mobility point on March 30, and is the region that has returned the fastest to the mobility levels of February. Oceania has its lowest point on April 6, and is currently the continent with the least mobility. Africa and Asia also have a minimum point of mobility on April 6, but are currently, after Europe, the two regions with the highest mobility respectively. Our region presents its lowest point of movement the week of March 23, and its return to mobility has been slow (Figure 1).

Figure 1.- Weekly average of mobility by continent.

Source: Own calculations with data from Facebook.

Of course, each country had different levels of decline in mobility, at different moments in time according to their institutional, operational and social capacities, and also according to the evolution of the pandemic. If we compare the mobility of Latin American countries, it is found that the minimum movement date is April 6 for most countries, except for Brazil, whose minimum point occurs a week before. The country with the lowest point in mobility is El Salvador, and together with Bolivia one of the countries that have taken the longest to increase their mobility. In contrast, Brazil, Uruguay and Mexico are the countries that decreased their mobility the least in the region. At the time of writing this text, Costa Rica is the country in the region with the least weekly mobility according to the indicator used (Figure 2).

Figure 2.- Weekly average of mobility by country in Latin America.

Source: Own calculations with data from Facebook.

However, mobility is only part of it, you have to see this information with the growth of new cases to see the relationships between one variable and another. For that we use daily case data from the Johns Hopkins University to be able to cross the mobility information with that of daily cases; Remember that the main objective of reducing people's interactions is to slow the spread, flatten the curve and avoid saturation of the health system.

When reviewing this information between countries, from the month of March to the week of August 17, some common patterns can be observed between countries. Thus, the relationship between the weekly average of daily cases and the weekly average of mobility in European countries had a very similar compartment, in which the decrease in mobility occurs in the period of the highest number of daily reported cases, followed due to a decrease in the weekly average of daily cases, but also a constant increase in mobility, without this increase in mobility being transformed into a return to the initial conditions of a greater number of daily infections, as shown in figure 3, with Germany, France, Italy, Denmark and Ireland; It is also seen that Spain carried this same behavior until the last week where it had an increase in cases even higher than in the weeks of March, its worst moment of the pandemic.

Figure 3.- Weekly average of mobility (blue line) and weekly average of daily reported cases of COVID-19 (orange bars) by country, with different scales to contrast the patterns between countries.

Source: Own calculations with data from Facebook and Johns Hopkins University.

When the countries of Latin America are reviewed, the pattern is different, the fall in mobility occurs with a low level of reported daily cases, and as mobility increases, infections continue to increase. This pattern is being repeated in practically all the countries of the region, except for Uruguay and Chile, and in a first stage Costa Rica, see figure 4. In other words, in Latin America the hammer effectiveness it was not similar to Europe, Canada, Oceania, or other Asian countries.

Figure 4.- Weekly average of mobility (blue line) and weekly average of daily reported cases of COVID-19 (orange bars) by country.

Source: Own calculations with data from Facebook and Johns Hopkins University.

One hypothesis to explain these differences in the effectiveness of the hammer refers to the social and economic conditions that have to do with the hammer. social progress of the countries; It is found that the higher the social progress, the better the effectiveness of the hammer, so much so that the regional average of social progress in Europe is 81.36 points out of 100 points, while in Latin America it is 70.42 points out of 100. In detail , socioeconomic conditions such as the characteristics of housing, levels of education, less informal employment, respect for the rule of law, trust in the government, the inclusion of health systems, the quality and coverage of digital infrastructure, sanitation and energy turn out to be factors that influence the effectiveness of countries to control the pandemic.

Finally as mentioned I can On August 27, when referring to Costa Rica, the cost-benefit of the measures is different in Latin America in relation to that of the countries with higher levels of development. And 7 months after the start of the pandemic in the region, and seeing that the infections and deaths continue to growIt is clear that the strategy in Latin America was not that of a hammer, it was more like that of a “squeaky chipote”, Because in the best of cases the speed of contagion decreased, but it is clear that this means that it was only a necessary but not sufficient condition. In this sense, already with data and not with estimates, it can be said that if the region does not accompany the opening with the appropriate strategies, considering the socioeconomic conditions of the countries and local contexts, focusing on changes in people's behavior , and in perfecting the use of protocols by economic activity, we will continue to lose the battle against COVID-19.