The Coronavirus (Covid-19) continued to spread over the last week with cases attributed to local infection, not just cases coming from abroad. At the time of going to press there had been 38 cases officially reported, 16 more than 24 hours ago. The threat is, of course, as elsewhere, that the numbers will continue rapidly to escalate, finding the weakest links in Peru’s poorly equipped health system.

For its part, the Vizcarra government enacted a number of measures on 11 March, much in line with those taken in other Latin American countries. It postponed the beginning of the school year until the end of March and introduced controls on people arriving from Italy, Spain, France and China. It also has earmarked some US$75 million in extra funding for the health system.

The following day, it went much further by ordering the suspension of all flights from European countries and Asia for a period of at least a month. This does not apply for flights originating in North America or other parts of Latin America, at least for now. Jorge Chávez airport is the critical point of entry, with some 50,000 people a day thought to pass through each day each day. The restriction will take its toll on Peru’s tourist industry.

The Vizcarra government is clearly concerned that tough measures needed to be taken to stem incoming sources of infection. It fears that failure to do so would become a critical issue politically, going forward .

Since the virus has been fairly slow in arriving in Peru, this has offered the authorities time to consider their response. However, the measures announced so far will do only so much to prevent its spread. As elsewhere, it is the elderly and infirm who are at most risk.

Most of the cases detected so far can be traced back to two or three people arriving from Europe, notably from Italy and the UK. However, an increasing number have been incubated locally, showing the speed at which infection takes place. Although the numbers are still low by comparison with many other countries (Latin America has been less affected so far than other parts of the world), the speed at which the numbers elsewhere multiply suggest that Peru’s hospital system will quickly be overwhelmed.