COVID:19 in Guatemala: an update

COVID-19 in Guatemala - Jürg Widmer Probst

The last Jürg Widmer Probst Guatemala blog to look at the country’s COVID-19 situation was half-way through last year. We’re now more than 12 months into the pandemic and it’s time to review how Guatemala is faring.

Unfortunately, Guatemala is currently in the midst of a third wave with cases of COVID-19 sharply rising. On 15 April 2021, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei announced that new restrictions are on their way. This announcement followed figures showing 3,818 new COVID-19 cases in just 48 hours.

How many cases are there of COVID-19 in Guatemala?

So far, Guatemala has recorded 208,694 cases in total. There have been 7,120 deaths, which when compared with countries like the UK with more than 150,000 dead shows that measures have worked to a great extent.

To ensure that deaths don’t rise anymore, travel restrictions will stay in place. The President said that because the death toll has reached highs reported in July and August 2020, stricter measures are needed. He urges the country to collaborate with the measures to keep cases under control.

The question on everyone’s lips around the world is all about the vaccination. And while the UK, the US and much of Europe are pretty far advanced with their vaccination programmes, emerging economies are lagging behind. The President has stated that all the vaccination centres have been decided, and there will be an announcement before long regarding the rollout strategy.

Guatemala’s vaccination programme plans are underway

The first delivery of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is due to be delivered by the end of April. Guatemala has already received the first shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines, totalling 81,600. So far, there has been no announcement regarding the potential withdrawal of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to the very minute number of fatal blood clots detected in Europe and other countries.

Guatemala was the third country in the Americas, after Peru and Colombia, to receive these vaccinations through the COVAX Facility in the second week of March 2021. This is the World Health Organisation’s network of agencies focused on getting vaccines to the emerging countries.

COVAX intends to ensure that a total of 6.6 million doses reach Guatemala in 2021. This will mean the country achieves its goal of vaccinating 20% of the Guatemalan population. The WHO facility incorporates 190 countries and aims to ensure that vaccinations make it to the entire global population, and not just the developed countries.

Following the delivery of the vaccines, Dr Amelia Flores, Minister of Public Health and Social Assistance says that the first phase of Guatemala’s vaccination plan is to ensure that front-line workers in the private, public and social security systems are immunised. Health workers are at the top of the list for the Guatemalan vaccine rollout, followed by high-risk adults.

AstraZeneca vaccination has been delivered to Guatemala

The vaccination programme is a welcome next step in Guatemala’s fight with COVID-19. Their first delivery is a significant milestone towards the WHO’s goal of making sure that there is a fair and equitable distribution of vaccines around the world. It is, of course, the biggest every operation of its type in history.

In Guatemala, as in other countries, until the entire population can be vaccinated, the public are expected to continue basic public health measures. These are the cornerstone of the global efforts to suppress the devastation wrought by COVID-19, and something that people are finally learning to live with.

For health authorities in Guatemala, this means a continuation of mass screening, contact tracing, supported isolation where necessary, quarantine measures and high standards of care. For the public it means keeping away from each other through social distancing, maintaining scrupulous levels of hand hygiene, ventilating properly and wearing masks.

Back at the start of the pandemic, AstraZeneca was instrumental in donating COVID-19 tests along with personal protective equipment to the Guatemalan Government. Aid groups remain concerned about Guatemala and other countries in the emerging world. These countries already suffer from extreme weather, poverty, lack of healthcare access and infrastructure issues far more than any country in the developed world/ Naturally, this makes a pandemic potentially more threatening.

 

However, the Guatemalan Government is clearly managing to deal with the pandemic in a way that’s arguably better than some developed countries. While the death toll is rising now, it still remains relatively low compared with the UK and US, and this must give Guatemala hope that they will come through the pandemic.

 

Rural regions of Guatemala need more assistance

Rural regions of Guatemala are more difficult to assist than urban areas due to infrastructure deficiencies. According to the World Bank, Guatemala is a middle-income country. However, the country has the second highest poverty level among countries in South America.

High poverty levels tend to be in the regions that are home to indigenous communities. These range from groups including the Tzutujil, Garifuna, Xinca and Kaqchikel Maya people. High-profile aid charities including Oxfam are continuing to use innovative and tech-based distribution models to ensure that the virus remains held at bay.

 

These include charities using online payments services to get money through to rural areas, so that people can use t to get the help they need. Lockdown measures are stricter than in the UK and other countries, including overnight curfews, no public transport and compulsory masks.