Special programme: The Covid-19 challenge in Latin America


As Latin America emerges as the new epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, we take you on a journey across the continent with reports from our correspondents. From Argentina to Mexico, via Brazil, Cuba and Colombia, how are governments handling the pandemic? Despite being neighbours, these countries have adopted very different approaches to the health crisis. While some are currently spared the brunt of the pandemic, others are experiencing record mortality rates. But all now find themselves in a worrying economic situation, with jobs in the informal sector often the norm.


In Argentina, until recently, the coronavirus curve was almost flat. This was the result of strict lockdown measures, taken early on and respected by the population. But in poor areas such as the densely populated urban slums of Buenos Aires, local infections are now rising much faster. Villa Azul, a small slum located 30 kilometres south of the capital, recently emerged as a hotspot for infection. The government's response was draconian: the entire neighbourhood of 3,000 inhabitants was placed in isolation for ten days. Mathilde Guillaume, Mariano Toledo and Declan McGarvey report.

Mexico City is an urban centre of 23 million people that has become infamous for its pollution. One silver lining of the Covid-19 pandemic is that in many cities around the world, the lockdown has drastically reduced traffic and air pollution. However, that has not happened in Mexico City, where people are still breathing dirty air. Why is that the case? Laurence Cuvillier, Matthieu Cumin and Ioan Grillo report from the Mexican capital.

Meanwhile, Brazil has fast become the epicentre of the pandemic in Latin America. In Rio de Janeiro, the daily death toll regularly surpasses 1,000. But as well as the lives lost, the virus has sparked political turmoil. Supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro gather regularly, calling for the re-opening of businesses and the closure of the Supreme Court, which is investigating the country's controversial leader. Lucinda Elliott reports from Rio.

>> Watch our special programme: Brazil, Latin America's Covid-19 epicentre

The Cuban authorities have mobilised quickly against Covid-19, both on the island and internationally. In Cuba, which has the highest number of doctors per resident, the government has focused on preventing and isolating suspected cases. Nursing staff go door to door to identify the sick. The strategy is paying off: Cuba has so far suffered few Covid-19 fatalities and since March, brigades of medical workers have been sent out to the most affected countries overseas to support local medical teams. Ed Augustin reports from Havana.

Last but not least, in Colombia, red rags hung outside people's homes have become a symbol of economic distress during the Covid-19 lockdown. It all started in the town of Soacha in the southern outskirts of Bogota, where the mayor asked starving families to signal themselves with a red rag. The rags soon became a SOS symbol across the country. Colombia entered lockdown at the end of March and this is expected to last until July, with devastating economic consequences. Half the population lives off informal work and survives on a day-to-day basis. The situation is getting worse, and the number of red rags is increasing, which has generated unprecedented solidarity among Colombians. Pascale Mariani, Simone Bruno and Catherine Osborn report.

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