From the COVID-19 epicentre: lessons from Latin American cities’ successes and failures

Hayley Henderson, Australian National University

Latin America is now the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fastest spread of the disease in the region’s cities follows a pattern of contagion that is anything but arbitrary. Disturbing images in international media depict the unfolding crisis, from disinfection campaigns in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to stockpiles of cardboard coffins in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Read more:
Deaths and desperation mount in Ecuador, epicenter of coronavirus pandemic in Latin America

By this week, about 30% of the world’s reported cases were in the region. But some centres have been much worse hit than others.
Two factors underpin these variations: levels of inequality, and the ways governments and communities are handling the crisis.

World map showing distribution of reported COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population for each country
Worldwide distribution of 14-day cumulative number of reported COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population. Darkest colours indicate highest rates of infection.

Across the region’s largest cities, the first cases had appeared by early March in well-off neighbourhoods. Not until May were exponential rates of infection recorded in most Latin American countries. The surge in cases reflected the spread of coronavirus across cities and into their poorest neighbourhoods.

The poor are more vulnerable

Many of the urban poor have not been able to manage risk in the way that the better-off do. To make ends meet they often travel long distances in public transport to work in wealthier neighbourhoods. Those who have jobs are often employed in the informal economy: cleaning houses, fixing electrical problems, selling vegetables and so on.

By June 2020, infection rates were increasing in many middle-class neighbourhoods too –
for example, in Buenos Aires. However, self-isolation is a more realistic prospect in these areas. Medical care is also more accessible.

Inequality created ideal conditions for COVID-19 to spread. The disease disproportionately affects residents of informal settlements in the largest cities. One-fifth of the Latin American population lives in such settlements.

As well as their work being insecure, their living conditions add to their vulnerability. Some of the problems faced can include overcrowding, malnutrition, deficient sewer systems, limited (and often paid) access to drinkable water, overwhelmed or unaffordable health services and indoor air pollution from cooking (with open fires or simple stoves, for example).

Read more:
So coronavirus will change cities – will that include slums?

Given these conditions, COVID-19 is far from a levelling force. It is the latest crisis to reveal old and hard truths about Latin America’s social and economic geography.

Quality of governance laid bare

The virus has not spread unabated in all Latin American cities. The quality of governance and the preparedness of services have greatly affected outcomes between cities and countries.

Some have paid a high price for the harmful impacts of inconsistent communications by authorities and political leaders, weak public health systems, liberalised employment conditions and lack of support for disadvantaged groups.

Mortality analyses conducted by the Coronavirus Resource Center at John Hopkins University show six of the countries most affected by COVID-19 worldwide are now in Latin America. Brazil, Chile and Peru have reached 50 or more deaths per 100,000 population. Nowhere has it been made clearer how a chronically underfunded public health system leaves behind vulnerable people.

The mortality rate is lower in other parts of the region. In these countries, strict restrictions have been introduced and the public health systems bolstered since the start of the pandemic. Leading examples include Uruguay, with 1.07 deaths per 100,000 people, and Argentina (11.7/100,000).

In June, Time included Argentina’s response in “The Best Global Responses to COVID-19 Pandemic”. In the capital, Buenos Aires, co-ordination between the three levels of government has been strong on public health as well as economic and social protection measures despite political differences. Shared communications have backed strict lockdown measures every fortnight since March 20 (read more about the Buenos Aires experience here).

Bottom-up efforts are vital too

It is not just top-down approaches by government that make a difference to local outcomes. The bottom-up work of social organisations in Latin American cities has also been vital.

We see this work especially in informal settlements that lack public services. Often run voluntarily and by women, these organisations cook meals for people in need, make masks, source medications, spread public information and fix broken houses.

Read more:
How Mumbai’s poorest neighbourhood is battling to keep coronavirus at bay

Many of their actions are also directed toward the state. With an ethic of care, they seek to drive anti-neoliberal change and demonstrate a better urban future centred on people’s real lives and desires.

For example, across the region feminist social movements and politics are dismantling patriarchal perspectives about modern cities. Their collective response to the COVID-19 crisis is a demonstration of solidarity.

Posts by Latin American feminist groups
Feminist movements debate ‘ecofeminism’ and ‘the city we want to return to’.
Ecofeminism Encounters, Latin American Dialogue (,, Author provided

Remaking cities after the pandemic

Looking forward to the post-pandemic city, there are valuable lessons to be learnt from Latin America.

First, debilitating inequality must be redressed. Poverty has been built into the way cities are developed. But this is now being denaturalised.

Second, co-ordinated and strong state-led action that made public health the priority has saved lives in cities like Buenos Aires. Bipartisan leadership and collaboration between levels of government can also help us deal with pressing urban challenges in the future.

Third, because of the ubiquitous albeit unequal way coronavirus has affected people across cities, there is potential for a post-pandemic future that focuses on collective well-being.

Many Latin American social organisations, and the networks between them, offer hope and direction for the challenge of recovery. Not only do they provide vital support in crisis management, they could play a democratising role in shaping politics and state responses to redress inequality over the long term.The Conversation

Hayley Henderson, Postdoctoral Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Deaths and desperation mount in Ecuador, epicenter of coronavirus pandemic in Latin America

Coffins await burial at the Jardines de Esperanza cemetery in Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 10, 2020.
Eduardo Maquilon/Getty Images

Dennis Altman, La Trobe University and Juan Carlos Valarezo, Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador

Dead bodies are lying at home and in the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador, a city so hard-hit by coronavirus that overfilled hospitals are turning away even very ill patients and funeral homes are unavailable for burial.

Data on deaths and infections is incomplete in Ecuador, as it is across the region. As of April 22, Ecuador – a country of 17 million people – had reported almost 11,000 cases, which on a per capita basis would put it behind only Panama in Latin America. But the true number is likely much higher.

The government of Guayas Province, where Guayaquil is located, says 6,700 residents died in the first half of April, as compared to 1,000 in a normal year. A New York Times analysis estimates Ecuador’s real coronavirus death toll may be 15 times the 503 deaths officially tallied by April 15.

In a pandemic that has largely hit wealthy countries first, Ecuador is one of the first developing countries to face such a dire outbreak.

Wealth is no guarantee of safety in an epidemic. Italy and the United States have both run short of necessary medical equipment like ventilators and dialysis machines. But experts agree poorer countries are likely to see death rates escalate quickly.

Our own academic research on Ecuadorean politics
and human security in past pandemics suggests that coronavirus may create greater political and economic turmoil in a country that already struggles with instability.

Ecuador’s swift response

The coronavirus outbreak in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and economic engine, began in February, apparently with infected people returning from Spain.

A doctor checking for COVID-19 symptoms in a family in Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 14, 2020.
José Sanchez/AFP via Getty Images

Its rapid escalation prompted panicked officials to impose social isolation quickly as a containment strategy. Ecuador’s restrictions on movement are strict and getting stricter.

Ecuadorians may not leave their homes at all between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 a.m. Outside of curfew, they may only go out to get food, for essential work or for health-related reasons, wearing masks and gloves. Public transport is canceled.

In Quito, Ecuador’s capital, people may only drive one day a week as determined by their license plate.

This is the second time in a year Quito residents have found themselves under lockdown. In October 2019, a nighttime curfew was established quell massive protests against austerity measures that were imposed in exchange for a large loan from the International Monetary Fund.

The protests, led by indigenous groups, dissipated after President Lenín Moreno backed away from austerity – but not before at least eight people were killed.

Latin America’s looming epidemic

Ecuador has been more proactive in responding to the epidemic than many neighboring countries.

In Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro has largely downplayed the severity of the coronavirus, despite thousands of new COVID-19 infections reported every day. In Venezuela the power struggle between the government of Nicolás Maduro and the opposition government of Juan Guaidó impedes any coordinated pandemic response.

Most Latin American leaders who have taken decisive action against coronavirus see stay-at-home orders as the only way to avoid collapse of their fragile, underfunded health systems.

Panama is limiting outings based on gender, allowing men and women to leave their homes three days each. Everyone stays home on Sundays.

El Salvador’s president sent soldiers to enforce a 48-hour full lockdown of the city of La Libertad that prohibited residents from leaving home for any reason – including to get food or medicine.

It’s unclear how such restrictions can persist in a region with considerable poverty and social inequality. Large numbers of Latin Americans live day-to-day on money they make from street trading and other informal work, which is now largely banned. Hunger threatens across the region.

Colombians under mandatory quarantine hang red fabric out their windows to request food aid, Soacha, April 15, 2020.
Leonardo Munoz/VIEWpress via Getty Images

Limits of Ecuador’s response

In Ecuador, where the average annual income is US$11,000, the Moreno government is giving emergency grants of $60 to families whose monthly income is less than $400. It has opened shelters to get homeless people off the streets and commandeered hotels to isolate the infected.

An active network of community organizations is also working to provide basic food and shelter to the needy, which includes most of the quarter million Venezuelan refugees who entered Ecuador in recent years.

Despite its active coronavirus response, Ecuador is unlikely to cope well if the epidemic spreads quickly from Guayaquil into the rest of the country.

Ecuador has a quarter as many ventilators per person as the United States. Testing for COVID-19 is scarce and has largely been outsourced to private corporations, making it prohibitively expensive.

Street vendors in Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 17, 2020.
Eduardo Maquilón/Agencia Press South/Getty Images

President Moreno’s expulsion of 400 Cuban doctors from Ecuador last year – part of his emphatic shift rightward for Ecuador – has left big holes in its already understaffed hospitals.

Ecuador’s economy is in crisis after the collapse in oil prices and tourism. And while last year’s deadly protests are over, politics – and political unrest – continue to polarize the nation.

On April 7 Ecuador’s highest court sentenced the popular but divisive leftist former President Rafael Correa to eight years in prison on corruption charges. Correa, who now lives in Belgium, says the charges are fabricated to ensure he cannot run for office again. His conviction increases political divisions during a crisis that calls for unity.

Ecuador’s death rate is starting to slow after more than a month of lockdown. But the specter of COVID-19 victims lying unburied at home, in hospital hallways, and on the streets, hangs as a specter across Latin America.

Guayaquil is a grim forecast of how this pandemic kills in the less wealthy world.

[Get facts about coronavirus and the latest research. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]The Conversation

Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University and Juan Carlos Valarezo, Professor of International Relations, Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The people of St. Aidan’s Anglican parish in Windsor have voted to break away from the local diocese and join the Anglican Network in Canada (ANIC), which is part of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone that oversees churches in most of South America, reports Thaddeus M. Baklinski,

St. Aidan’s is the seventh Anglican church in Ontario, and the eleventh nationally, to secede from the Anglican Church of Canada over doctrinal issues focused on acceptance of homosexuality.

Members of the parish said they wanted to return to a more orthodox and traditional version of Anglicanism, centered around the authority of scripture and the gospel.

James I. Packer, Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, BC and one of the most highly regarded Protestant theologians today, said the Anglican Church of Canada has been “poisoned” by a liberal theology that “knows nothing of a God who uses [the Bible] to tell us things and knows nothing of sin in the heart and in the head.”

Charlie Masters, the executive archdeacon of ANIC, told the Windsor Star, “The big issue (is) around the Bible and the authority of scripture and the gospel,” which teaches that human sexuality is reserved for marriage, which is an exclusive commitment between a man and a woman.

In a news release, ANIC said, “Unfortunately, the Anglican Church of Canada continues to abandon mainstream Anglican teaching and doctrine, particularly in relation to the authority of the Bible, breaking with the vast majority of global Anglicans.”

The Windsor Star reported that St. Aidan’s bishop, the Right Rev. Robert Bennett, said, “They may not say it, but the issue of same-sex marriage is underlying the whole debate,” and that he will be investigating the validity of the vote.

“We’re trying to clarify the details,” said Bennett. “There are also serious issues about who owns the building. We’re looking at our options.”

Report from the Christian telegraph