Covid-19 in Venezuela: the "bomb" that never exploded

One year has passed since the confirmation of the first case in the country

It is a year since the arrival of the first cases of covid-19 in Venezuela, a story that began with all the odds against given the aggressiveness of the virus and the country's situation as a result of three turbulent years that had their genesis with the arrival of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States.

March 12, 2020. On the afternoon of that Thursday, amid the rumors about the arrival of the first cases of covid-19 that flooded social networks, the President of the Republic, Nicolás Maduro, appeared on the stairs of the Miraflores Palace. There, dressed in a suit and tie, in the company of the Executive Vice President, Delcy Rodríguez and part of the ministerial cabinet, announces the suspension of flights from Europe and Colombia, a measure that would be the preamble to the escalation of measures aimed at containing the expansion of the pandemic that was already touching Venezuelan soil.

«I have believed necessary with the analysis that the presidential team for coronavirus care led by Vice President Delcy Rodríguez (...) suspend for up to a month all flights from Europe and Colombia to add to the preventive processes at the international level ».

Image of the moment when the president makes the announcement about the suspension of flights

These words of the National President envisioned the character of high preventive rigor that would govern the Venezuelan state policy in addressing the covid-19 pandemic, a strategy that today allows him to show figures - that within this tragedy that he maintains in thousands of millions of human beings in suspense-, they can be described as very positive.

March 13 2020. Without commercial airplanes landing on Venezuelan territory, in the streets you could already feel that tense calm of someone who knows that the bad news is inevitable and is only waiting to hear it to take the measures that you have already been thinking about.

«At dawn today, two cases of coronavirus in Venezuela were confirmed through the tests that exist in this regard. Two Venezuelan citizens: a 41-year-old recently traveled to the United States, Italy and Spain and another case of a 52-year-old Venezuelan from Spain, "was the announcement made by Vice President Rodríguez.

It had been Iberia flight 6673, the means by which the carriers of this virus had entered on March 5 and 7, who were isolated and questioned about their chains of direct contacts.

Mandatory mask

Just days after being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, this unknown virus continued to wreak havoc in the world that debated whether or not to use masks. «It has no effects», «it does work», «it is a measure that could help», «it does not contribute at all», were part of the discussions that were observed in world media where doctors, scientists, politicians and even public opinion experts Without any knowledge of the matter, they spoke about its effectiveness or not.

Despite this diatribe, within the presidential commission for the care of the pandemic there were no doubts about the need to establish the obligatory nature of its use as announced this day by the Venezuelan vice president, making Venezuela one of the first Western countries to adopt this protection mechanism.

"Every citizen who is going to use transport, both the subway and trains, has the obligation to provide a mask," he announced, a decision to which he added the suspension of classes at all levels of education.

Like the lighting of the switch or the shot that starts the nervous and concentrated runners on a triathlon track, these words resulted in the massive departure of people who mined pharmacies, supplies, still lifes and drugstores in search of masks, gloves, antibacterial gel and alcohol.

"There is no", "it is sold out", "they just took the last one", were the words with which, already in the afternoon hours, the eager buyers were received who, invaded by nerves and fear, sought to become a mechanism for their protection against the arrival of the pandemic that was already raging in Europe with macabre images of the overflowing morgues and rows of coffins.

Manufacture of face masks by members of a community in Guárico

Faced with this lack, mainly caused by the deep economic and social crisis derived from the cruel coercive and illegal measures that the United States imposes on the country, blocking all possibility of acquiring medicines and supplies, the inventiveness of the Venezuelan arises who decided to make his mask and manufacture his own gel, action that was reviewed in the world between ridicule and contempt, ensuring the ineffectiveness of these homemade masks, although months later, those same media and people who made fun of this idea, launched tutorials on "how to make your mask" before the scarcity that was generated in the world of this product.

March 14, 2020. In the midst of nervous purchases, actions such as avoiding public transport because it "zapped" and the self-confinement that some had already assumed, the then sector vice president for Communication, Tourism and Culture, Jorge Rodríguez, appears and announces the detection of 8 new cases in four entities of the country, so the country reinforced its epidemiological fence by adding to the ban on flights from Panama and the Dominican Republic.

While all this was happening in Venezuela with only 10 cases detected, in much of South America the government measures would be limited to pointing out the importance of hand washing and physical distancing (1.5 meters), but bars, cinemas, discos, beaches , clubs, shopping centers, etc., continued to function normally and even leaders such as the Colombian created a "Day without VAT", which was baptized as the coronaday, given the number of people who threw themselves into the shops and shopping centers. ignoring all biosecurity measures. For others like Trump the solution was to ingest legía, while for Bolsonaro, it all boiled down to locking up the elderly and "getting on with our lives."

Early morning quarantine

March 15, 2020. Taking the example of China, which was beginning to show positive results, in the most affected regions the mandatory confinement measure was chosen to prevent the rapid multiplication of this new coronavirus that had collapsed the health systems of Europe. In Venezuela, President Maduro went to the country to announce that as of Monday, March 16, the four entities of the country where cases had been registered would enter what he called the "conscious and voluntary social quarantine", which surprised locals and strangers when considering it as a "hasty" measure given the low number of registered infections compared to other countries such as Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and Colombia where there were a greater number of cases and confinement had not been applied.

March 17, 2020. Although the cases had been registered in only four entities, the whole country decided to stay at home and that is why that Tuesday, the president decided to announce that the quarantine would be applied throughout the country, news that only confirmed a decision that the Venezuelans had adopted on their own accord, either out of fear when observing the consequences of not adopting the measures of confinement and physical distancing or for simple prevention.

The bustle that has always invaded the capital completely disappeared

"Stay home" was the motto that was read behind each appearance of the vice president or minister Jorge Rodríguez, who were in charge of appearing every night to report the balance of confirmed cases in the last 24 hours. As part of the meta language to promote the use of the mask, both appeared in front of the cameras wearing the mask and with the words «with your permission, I will proceed to remove the mask, an element of utmost importance to avoid the spread of covid- 19 ”, they began to indicate the figures.

State and private media reported the deployment of medical brigades that went "house to house" conducting screening for possible infections, a method that had been successful in China and South Korea, where they managed to control the outbreaks with sweeps of tests in the communities where one or more cases were presented, but to which Venezuela added an innovation for the detection of possible cases; the survey through the Patria System in which more than 21 million Venezuelans are registered. To these were added the mega-days of disinfection of public spaces and roads with hypochlorite

In the following three months, there were significant outbreaks as a result of violations of the quarantine that was maintained in the country, such as the besibol school in Nueva Esparta (April) and the Las Pulgas Market (May-June). In the midst of this despite the record of daily increases in cases, the spokesmen for the Presidential Commission showed how the contagion curve grew without representing the dreaded "exponential growth", which was observed when they showed the graphs of Colombia, Brazil and USA.

Slipped through the trails

The news that came of the mistreatment suffered by Venezuelans who - as part of a plan to create the image of a humanitarian crisis that would justify a military invasion in Venezuela - had been encouraged to migrate to South American nations.

Persecution, evictions of homes and even expulsions from the territory, undermined social networks where Venezuelans were seen who began the long journey of return from lands as far away as Chile on foot, a fact that, unlike their publicized departure from Venezuela, was not the object of media coverage because for them, that was not news.

Those who went to the Pasi were given food and health care

This return caused the Government to apply a health containment plan aimed at guaranteeing that the returnees did not pose a danger, understanding that most of them came from countries where there was a high virality of the covid. Despite this, the figures began to grow vertiginously as a result of the entry of several compatriots who, frightened by the campaigns that warned about "inhumane treatment" in the Integral Social Assistance Posts (Pasi) that the Government installed in all border crossings. and in cities where the flights of the Plan Vuelta a la Patria arrived, they decided to enter through the so-called trails.

16 2020 August. While in countries such as Colombia, Peru and Brazil the cases exceeded tens of thousands of daily cases, for Venezuelans the confirmation of 1.148 infections in one day was a wake-up call, a figure that remained as its historical peak to date, but which was the trigger for the quarantine, which had been loosened a bit, to return rigorously supported mainly by the conscience of the people, who, knowing the commitment that many have to see Venezuela overwhelmed by the pandemic, decided to stay home and wait for control of this outbreak to be achieved.

Let's go to the perfect 7 + 7

September 6, 2020. This day the perfect setting was achieved for the application of the 7 + 7 plan, which, although it had already been announced on June 5, had not been applied uniformly throughout the country due to the restrictive measures that were maintained in Bolívar. Caracas, La Guaira, Mérida, Táchira and Zulia for controlling the outbreak derived from the uncontrolled arrival of some Venezuelans infected by the border crossings; the so-called imported cases.

This mechanism, which consists of 7 days of quarantine and 7 days of labor flexibility, was scoffed at by the media and wise analysts who pointed out the "irrational" of the measure, which to their regret was having the desired effects, reaching a gradual decrease in the cases and at the same time an increase in the country's economic activity under the slogan "between quarantine and production, there is no contradiction."

“The next goal is to reduce infections, and we are going to get there; reduce deaths to zero, and we will get there; with the care, with the medical brigades, the treatments, the PCR and all the tests, we are going to get there ", said the President at the time of this announcement, words that became a prophecy that would be fulfilled when with very low figures, announced that December would be a month of relaxation for Venezuelans who were able to enjoy a happy Christmas that very few in the world could celebrate as a family and community.

Image of the lighting of the tree in the city of Maturín that featured live music and fireworks

Streets overflowing with people -all with masks- who made their Christmas purchases, family gatherings and toasts were the images that remained of the Venezuelan Christmas parties, where the joy and fanfare contrasted with the images of lonely streets in Europe that went into confinement as a consequence of the second wave caused by a total release of restrictive measures in May 2020, when they believed they had dominated the deadly virus.

"If the Reuters, AFP, EFE agency transmitted to their countries what is being done in Venezuela, perhaps they could take some contribution from us Venezuelans, on how to combine quarantine and care with flexibility," Maduro said.

Numbers do not lie

The sum of applying the quarantine with only 10 cases, ordering the mandatory use of masks, carrying out massive screenings, and alternating flexibility and quarantine under the 7 + 7 scheme, have resulted in Venezuela being located in the 133rd place of deaths per million inhabitants, while its neighbors Brazil and Colombia are ranked 25 and 28.

The same happens with the confirmed infections that place Venezuela in the position number 75, very far from Brazil that with more than 11 million cases occupies the third place and Colombia that with about 2.3 million holds the eleventh position.

This immense achievement was conceived in the midst of a resurgence of sanctions by the United States, which saw the pandemic as the perfect scenario to increase its actions against the country, even including an attempted mercenary incursion (Gideon operation) and the blockade of the imports to prevent the entry of medical supplies, to detect, protect and treat the covid, all this in an effort to cause a health crisis in the country that would justify a "humanitarian intervention."

«Venezuela is a time bomb»(BBC - May 2020),«the worst is yet to come»(DW - May 2020),«The coronavirus unleashes a perfect storm in Venezuela»(El País - May 2020) and the most recent«Covid in Venezuela: the earthquake that is yet to come»(El País - February 2021), are only a minimum of the media and political bets that have been discarded by the unobjectionable reality that the numbers reflect a year after the confirmation of the first cases in Venezuela that knew how to deactivate the bomb of time and weather the perfect storm with leadership, intelligence, inventiveness and a lot of discipline.

 

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