The third wave: are we ready?

April 06 2021
Mauren esquivel

6 April 2021. A year ago, in the Easter 2020, the region and the world were faced with the greatest restrictions on mobility that have been seen since the pandemic began. Each country with its different possibilities and local contexts applied the strategy of "stay at home" and limit the mobility of people in order to reduce the transmissibility of the virus and be able to contain the exponential growth of the pandemic in order to avoid saturation of health systems.

Viewing the mobility data of Facebook and your initiative "Data for Good" which measures the mobility of people on a daily basis for 192 countries of the world; It can be seen that in 2020, Panama, Ecuador, and El Salvador were the three countries that decreased their mobility the most, with a drop of more than 60% in mobility compared to pre-pandemic levels. While in the same period, Nicaragua, Mexico and Brazil were the countries in the region that decreased their mobility the least, with a drop of 35%.  

Mobility of people in Latin American countries

Source: Own calculations with data from Facebook "Data for Good".

Since then, mobility has increased as we cannot be locked up indefinitely; a first and second wave of infections has been passed, and it has begun with the deployment of vaccination campaigns, although these campaigns advance at unequal rates between countries, and except for a few few exceptions the rest of the countries will continue to dedicate 2021 and 2022 to vaccinating their populations.

But while the topics of discussion are vaccination, economic reactivation, and return to normality; the virus has continued to be present, changing, and adapting, creating new complexities and risks to people's health and well-being. And is that this type of virus have tendencies to mutate and create variants, some that do not represent greater danger; but others, such as the British, South African and Brazilian variants, mutate to change the rules of the pandemic game. These new variants have been identified as more contagious, with a greater impact on younger populations, and with indications that they may be more deadly.

With this context we arrive at a Holy Week in 2021 with a generalized increase in mobility, where Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile are the countries with the least mobility, close to a reduction of 25%; while the three countries with the highest mobility are Honduras, Colombia and Nicaragua with levels of mobility up to 0.5% higher than the levels prior to the pandemic in 2020. But also with increasing trends in cases, such as in Brazil where the health system collapsed; in countries where the first two waves had not had much impact as in Uruguay y Paraguay they are now having their highest number of infections; in countries where vaccination has been a success like Chile, the weekly infections reached a maximum; and even in countries that had had great effects in the first wave such as Peru y Ecuador, now they are also reporting new highs for infections and weekly deaths.

Evolution of new weekly cases of COVID-19 in Latin America

Source: Own calculations with data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In Central America and Mexico, the weekly new case curves do not yet show the behavior of the southern countries of the continent, although there are already increasing trends in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras. In this context, it is to be expected that, with the increase in the mobility of Easter, the relaxation of the measures and protocols typical of the fatigue produced by the pandemic, and the approaching rainy season, the countries of this part of the continent start to show similar trends driven by new variants of the virus.

Evolution of weekly new cases of COVID-19 in Central America

Source: Own calculations with data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Against this background, and following the recent European reactions to return to closures and confinements, some countries in the region have once again mobility restrictions, capacity limits in public spaces, and closures of high-risk activities; but we already know that these measures they are temporary and very costly in social and economic terms. While in the countries of Central America, where the third wave has not yet arrived, but is apparently imminent, it is important to ask these questions, how are we preparing to face it? What lessons were learned from the first and second waves? What aspects must be reinforced in the face of a renewed and more dangerous virus, but a tired population? And the answers must not only be expected from governments, since the success in managing this crisis depends on the actions and follow-up of the protocols made by the different members of society, such as companies, churches, universities, non-governmental organizations, families and individuals; finally, before what can come, are we prepared ?.