Updated: Jan 23
It was hard not to have high hopes for 2021. With the New Year comes new beginnings and after all 2020 brought, everyone happily welcomed 2021. But sadly, not all was made new when the clock struck midnight on January 1st. Covid19 rages on. In Peru, cases continued to skyrocket in January.
After a long year of on and off again quarantine, the country opened back up in time for their summer months (November – March). Even with very strict social distancing rules, people were excited to have limited interactions outside and see family and friends. Many jobs went back to work, and some tourism was allowed to reopen as well. For small, impoverished cities like Pucusana, this was an answer to prayer. The people were desperate to go back to work in order to start earning a day’s wage and feed their families.
After only two months of opening back up, Covid19 cases spiked, including diagnosis of the new strain of Covid from Europe. Thus, beginning the 2nd wave of Covid in Peru. Because of this, newly elected interim President Francisco Sagasti ordered much of the country back into lock down starting February 1st through the 14th. But we all know it will be for much longer than two weeks.
Quarantine in Peru looks very different than our “safer at home” orders in the US.
Firstly, districts in Peru were divided into three categories: Extreme, Very High and High.
The “Extreme” category was made up of all the Lima districts (including Pucusana), Callao, Ancash, Pasco, Huanuco, Junin, Huancavelica, Ica and Apurimac.
Lock down in these areas looks like the following: (which I took straight from the Peruvian Embassy’s website.)
· Private vehicles are prohibited all days of the week except for those vehicles conducting essential services with an official permit issued by the Government of Peru. This would look like no one being allowed to drive their car to the grocery store in the US.
· 24-hour curfew. Individuals must remain at home.
· One person from every household is allowed to leave their house for one hour, by foot, daily between 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. to retrieve food.
· Grocery stores and supermarkets are allowed to remain open but must operate at 40% capacity. Restaurants are closed to the public, but may operate for delivery orders only until 6 p.m.
· No cash. Credit cards only. – This wouldn’t seem like such a big deal except for the majority of the population doesn’t have a bank account, let alone a credit card.
· Public spaces and gathering areas are closed to the public.
· Interprovincial air and land travel is prohibited, with exceptions for connecting flights for international departure.
· Everyone over the age of 2yr old must provide proof of a negative Covid test to enter the country followed by a 14-day quarantine.
And although it is not stated in the official rules, you will be arrested if you break these guidelines. One of our team members on the ground in Pucusana said, “The beaches are prohibited. If you walk on the beach, the police will run after you screaming. It’s like a horror film”. Simple freedoms like walking on the beach have been stripped away. It doesn’t matter if you are not sick, everyone must obey the rules because the government fears that if they lose control over the public than the virus will spread even more intensely than it already has.
While these extreme measures may be justified to limit the spread of Covid, they will have consequences that last for years. As we have stated in many other blogs, suspending jobs leads to impoverished communities starving and the economic collapse of entire countries. Simply saying “work from home” is not applicable for Peruvians. 75% of Peru’s population work in day-to-day labor jobs, meaning that if they don’t work, they don’t eat. 60% of the population does not have easy access to clean water either, so you can imagine how difficult lock down has been and is again now for the majority of Peruvians; on top of the fear of contracting the virus. Lock down ramifications alone will kill more people than Covid and that’s not to mention the declining mental state of the general public leading to record numbers of suicides. If you have been following The Pucusana Project for a while, you know we spent most of 2020 and our resources feeding the starving thousands in Pucusana as a result of quarantine. Although completely necessary, but these are only temporary fixes. Recovering from the damages of lock down will take decades.
Nonetheless, Covid cases in Peru keep increasing and with the new strain affecting more of the younger population, people are afraid. So, weather the long-term consequences outweigh the current situation, lock down seems to be the only solution the government is trying, and the majority of the population is complying.
Currently, the daily case load remains at just 20% of Peru’s August 2020 peak. According to Johns Hopkins University Covid Resource Center, Peru, which has one of the highest coronavirus tallies in Latin America, has confirmed more than 1,186,000 infections and 42,308 deaths on February 8th, 2021. Less people might be sick than this past August, but Peruvian authorities are saying more people are being hospitalized this time around because many are waiting until their symptoms are severe to seek medical help. This is the main reason for reentering lockdown - more people are being hospitalized and the hospitals cannot handle it. Public hospitals throughout the country are full. Yes, FULL. Meaning there are no open beds to accept the endless stream of Covid19 patients.
This has led to one of the largest injustices Peru has seen in 50 years. With the public hospitals (which are free, and government run) understaffed, overrun and ill-equipped, people have turned to the private sector. Private clinics and hospitals have better equipment and open beds because they are not free facilities. They are better funded because their patients pay to be there, and they do not rely on government assistance. These clinics have always been out of reach to the middle and lower classes in Peru, but with the massive influx of sick people desperate for medical attention, the private clinics have been overwhelmed by the number of patients willing to pay to use the facility. So now the private hospitals are becoming overloaded too. And their solution to this? Create a waiting list where you can buy your way to the top. Right now, people are paying upwards of $8,000 a day, A DAY, to secure a bed in the private clinic. Only the wealthiest of Peru can afford this. Leaving, yet again, the impoverished to suffer and die.
The Pucusana Project has been personally struck by this corruption when two of our team leaders came down with Covid19 at the end of January / beginning of February. One of our leaders was so ill, she was driven two hours into Lima city to receive medical help. For the last week, we have struggled to get her the assistance she needs because of the overflowing public hospitals and the outrageous cost of the private clinics. Luckily, we have been able to independently secure medicines, oxygen tanks and breathing equipment to assist her as she recovers from Covid induced pneumonia. Most of the sick are not this lucky.
This situation has come about because of the corruption inside the Peruvian government. The problem is that the public hospitals were completely underfunded, unequipped and are a part of an insufficient system created long before this pandemic struck. For decades the mafia-controlled Peruvian congress have allocated billions of dollars to areas that solely benefited their own deep pockets. Their corruption is not a secret or a conspiracy, it is public knowledge. Politicians do not hide their corruption because they are protected by their status. The Peruvian constitution protects elected officials from prosecution of their crimes as long as they sit in positions of power. Hard to believe, but it’s true. Recently, there is even evidence that last year, when the government gave paychecks to millions of citizens in hopes to offset financial losses caused by the pandemic, that the money just went straight into multiple pockets of high up politicians and their friends and family. This kind of political corruption has plagued Peru for over 40 years and the general public are truly suffering the consequences. Horrible medical care is just one area we are seeing it in right now. The money to make Peru a developed country is there; it’s just being spent in all the wrong places. Until the corruption is dealt with, the Peruvian people will continue to suffer.
I share all of this with you so that you can better understand what is currently happening in Peru. So that you can better understand why our nonprofit’s mission is so important - now more than ever. The Pucusana Project is working to help the people who are suffering the most. The poorest of the poor. The people the Peruvian government doesn’t care about. During Covid, we’ve worked to feed the starving, but our main purpose and mission remains the same. We want to open a school to educate children and adults. To have a facility that can teach skills and the importance of values like honesty and helping your neighbor. By offering a quality education and renewing lost principles to entire generations will set Peruvians on a path to higher learning, better paying careers and create honorable people. Thus, alleviating poverty, elevating communities and ending corruption. Enabling our mission will give the poor, who make up the majority of Peru’s population, a fighting chance to make a difference, to be the positive change their community and country so desperately need. It starts with your donation to help one person at a time, one city at a time. This is the only way to prevent what is currently happening in Peru from happening again.
· United States, US Embassy in Peru, Covid 19 Information – Country specific Information, January 29th, 2021, https://pe.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/
· VOA News, “Peru Launches Vaccination Program Against COVID-19”, VOA News, February 09, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/peru-launches-vaccination-program-against-covid-19
· Welsh Teresa, “Inequality and corruption: Why Peru is losing it’s COVID19 battle”, Devex.com, July 1st, 2020, https://www.devex.com/news/inequality-and-corruption-why-peru-is-losing-its-covid-19-battle-97604
· “Hospitals in Peru and Bolivia overflow as COVID-19 cases rise”, AlJazeera News, January 6th, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/6/hospitals-in-peru-and-bolivia-overflow-as-covid-19-cases-rise