One year of pandemic

01 2021 March
Mauren esquivel

In this month of March 2021, we celebrate one year since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the Central American region. March 6 in Costa Rica, March 9 at Panama, March 11 at El Salvador y Honduras, March 13 at Guatemala, March 18 at Nicaragua. Worldwide on those dates the number of confirmed cases was less than 200,000, and 80% of them were located in Asia; one year later, there are 113 million cases, 45.07% of them in America and 32.60% in Europe, while Asia has only 18.91% of them. In terms of the deceased, we went from having less than 10 deaths, 62.46% in Asia; to have more than 2.5 million deaths, being 48.18% in America, 33.46% in Europe and only 14.27% in Asia. As the numbers show, both the Americas and Europe have been severely affected in terms of cases and deaths. 

Graph 1. Cumulative number of COVID-19 cases by continent.

Source: Coronavirus Resource Center, Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

In this year we learned flatten the curve, wear masks, maintain social distance, follow protocols, that not everyone could stay at home, that distance education is a privilege, that you have to wash your hands, use alcohol gel, that the tourism is fragile, that we do not need to be all in the same place and at the same time to work but that we continue to be social beings, that health is more valuable than we thought, that having access to the internet is a basic good, that the advances of 15 years can be erased in one year, that institutions and their quality count, that formal employment is key to resilience, that institutions borders can be closed even in the most integrated countries, or that science can work miracles and produce a new virus vaccine in record time.

But we also learned that although the threats are the same, the national contexts matter a lot in the results, the virus is the same but the countries are not. Thus, in Latin America, although there is only 8% of the world's population, 26.54% of deaths from COVID-19 have been accounted for to date. And economically, the region had a -7.4% drop of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while the United States registered a fall of -3.4%, Canada -5.5% or the Euro region -7.2%, according to data from the International Monetary Fund for 2020.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has cost lives, but also socially and economically. Although there are also differences between countries, evaluating this pandemic year, we can differentiate performances in the region, according to minimizing the cost in lives and the economic cost. So there are 4 categories:

Countries with a good performance in the midst of the crisis, since they managed to minimize the cost in lives with a lethality lower than 2.21%, and they also minimized the economic cost such as Uruguay, Costa Rica, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic.

Countries that had a high economic cost, higher than that of the region, but maintained a fatality rate lower than the average fatality associated with the disease (2.21%), such as Panama.

Countries that minimized the economic cost such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Chile and Honduras; but that its fatality rate was higher than that observed in the world.

And finally, countries that had high levels of fatality and also high levels of economic losses such as Colombia, El Salvador, Bolivia, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Mexico. In this group is the country with the greatest drop in its GDP, with -13.94% which is Peru; and also the country with the highest fatality reported with 8.83% which is Mexico.

Graph 2. Performance of the countries in 2020, lethality and economic growth.

Source: Own elaboration with data from the International Monetary Fund and the Coronavirus Resource Center, Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

Finally, one year into the pandemic and although in many countries of the region the most vulnerable populations are already being vaccinated, the process is slow because the availability of vaccines has not been so fluid as was originally estimated (10 countries currently have 75% of the vaccines available in the world). So how have we previously mentioned, the end of the pandemic will be slow and complicated, especially for a region that has been badly hit by the crisis, both in human and monetary terms.

It is time to continue taking care of yourself, adapting, and reinventing yourself; but also to review what has worked and what has not worked in each country during this year of living with the virus. Be self-critical to improve performance, and again, minimize the cost in lives and economic costs, we will see at the end of this crisis, which countries are the ones that can best protect their populations and prosperity.