Responding to pressures to announce a release from the current lockdown, President Martín Vizcarra, in a speech to the nation on 14 April, outlined three phases for a return to normality.
Like heads of state elsewhere, Vizcarra had to point to future policy in what would inevitably be a balancing act between the need to reactivate the economy and prevention of further waves of Covid-19. Normality would only return, he said, by the beginning of 2021.
The timetable to which he pointed would involve an easing of the current, almost total lockdown, by June, followed by a progressive let-up in restrictions. The current quarantine is due to end on 26 April. After that a number of activities would be permitted that do not involve agglomeration of people. He said the phase beginning in June would be the most problematic and would require the forging of a consensus between politicians, business interests and labour organisations.
“We have to generate the conditions”, he said, “so that by the end of the year or in the first quarter of 2021 we are back, more or less, to normal”. He thus sought to scotch the idea that there would be any swift return to normality.
Vizcarra was emphatic in saying that the April 2021 general election would go ahead on schedule and that he would not be a candidate for any elective office.
In his address, Vizcarra also announced a programme by which people living in rural areas will receive a subsidy payment (bono) worth 760 soles (around US$225). It remained unclear, however, how those eligible would receive the money.
However, the figures emerging from hospitals are hardly reassuring. As of 17 April, the numbers of people registered as having the virus had increased to 13,489, compared to 5,897 seven days earlier, and the number of people who had died increased to 300 compared with 169. The upwards shift on the graph was still notable, although the numbers of those infected is only as good as the methods used for testing people. The incidence of known cases still reflected the predominance in Lima (9,793).
As we mentioned last week, infection levels tend to be concentrated in the more prosperous districts of the capital. As the next article makes clear, in poor neighbourhoods the incidence is rather patchy, with some districts having very few cases. This may, of course, just reflect the fact that it is harder to document cases where people may be suffering at home. It may be just a matter of time before the full impact of the virus makes itself felt in these less privileged neighbourhoods.
It is but a matter of time too that the virus spreads more vigorously to rural areas where health provision is weak or non-existent. Studies show the extent of demographic movement both within rural areas as well as between these and urban ones. Already cases of Covid-19 have reached almost all Peru’s regions, and it is foreseeable that it will spread within these, albeit perhaps more slowly in rural than urbanised areas. Moreover, rural people may find it harder to access government relief measures. Further attempts of people resident in cities to escape to rural areas could accelerate infection in these.
Beyond laying down rules for the curfew and seeking to prevent people congregating in substantial numbers (using the police and the threat of fines to do so), the government has sought to come to the assistance of people and enterprises stricken by the shutdown. In so doing, as our article on Reactiva Peru suggests, it runs the risk of being accused of acting in response more to pressure from well organised lobbies than to the considered evaluation of social need. Moreover, the methods employed to relieve distress are only as good as the mechanisms for distributing aid to vulnerable populations.