Peru’s latest prime minister, Walter Martos, received a resounding vote of confidence having presented his cabinet and programme before Congress on 11 August. He received 115 votes of support out of a total of 130.

This stood in stark contrast to the punishment meted out on Pedro Cateriano scarcely a week earlier. Having lost the vote of confidence, Cateriano had to resign and President Martín Vizcarra was forced back to the drawing board. Apart from appointing Martos, a retired army general, much of the previous cabinet retained their jobs, notably – as we pointed out last week – Education Minister Martín Benavides and Economy Minister Maria Antonieta Alva, both of whom had been in the congressional firing line.

The size of the vote of confidence provides an important shot in the arm for Vizcarra for whom congressional opposition has been a permanent headache ever since the new Congress was elected last January. It will probably see him through to the end of his term of office in July next year.

The tone of Martos’ speech contrasted with that of Cateriano. Instead of giving pride of place to the interests of the business community, Martos focused on the health emergency and its implications going forward. He also mentioned the importance of economic reactivation and political reform, both issues of concern for Vizcarra.

Like Vizcarra in his Independence Day address on 28 July, Martos invoked the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. He also stressed the need to reduce levels of social inequality. However, it remains to be seen how far this is just a discursive shift and policy remains unaltered in its fundamentals. There was no mention, for example, of labour rights which business interests wish to see weakened.

The health situation caused by Covid-19 has continued to deteriorate. On 12 August, the government announced a series of new measures to try to stifle the pandemic. A new curfew is to be introduced, as well as a lockdown on Sundays beginning this week. Social gatherings will be banned once again. In addition, targeted lockdowns will remain in place in localities where the numbers of infected people have risen notably over the recent past. There are 34 provinces and six whole regions (Arequipa, Huánuco, Ica, Junín, Madre de Dios and San Martín) which are affected.

In the nearly five months since the lockdown was first announced, the number of authenticated cases in Peru has now surpassed half a million while the number of deaths is put at nearly 26,000. These official figures almost certainly understate the scale of the problem. In terms of the numbers people killed in South America, Peru comes second only to Brazil. In terms of numbers in relation to population size, it is second only to Chile.