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The Virus Turns South

Latin America is “lucky” to be a few weeks behind Europe and Asia in the global spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The region has never faced a crisis like this one, and policymakers must use this time wisely, which means acting swiftly and boldly.

SANTIAGO – The COVID-19 coronavirus has arrived in Latin America, but effective measures to deal with the pandemic have not – at least not in every country. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in México and President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, mimicking US President Donald Trump, are still holding rallies and hugging supporters, in a reckless attempt to burnish their macho strongman credentials. A more serious, ambitious, and targeted response is necessary to prevent a public-health crisis from becoming a social and economic catastrophe.

COVID-19 has savaged Italy, which has more doctors and hospital beds per capita than Latin America does. The United States is short of testing kits, and the United Kingdom is short of respirators. It would be naive to think the same problems will not hit Latin America, which has a poor track record on past pandemics: during the 1957-58 Asian flu, Chile topped the world with 9.8 deaths for every ten thousand inhabitants.

Latin America has ample experience with crises of all sorts, but this one is unprecedented. The first priority is to save lives, so every peso spent containing the virus is a peso well spent. This is no time for thrift.

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