Peru, which has the world’s highest per capita death rate from coronavirus, will carry out a nationwide study to gauge the prevalence of Covid-19 antibodies. Cabinet Chief Walter Martos said Tuesday that between 30% and 35% of the population has probably already been exposed, which could mean that an eventual second wave of infections will be less destructive to the country’s health system and economy. Several studies published in July suggested 1 in 4 residents of the capital Lima had been infected while the rate in other parts of the South American country may have been as high as 70%.
The Andean nation of almost 33 million has reported at least 32,000 deaths from the virus, giving it the highest per capita death toll ahead of Belgium, Bolivia and Brazil. Daily deaths and hospitalization rates have fallen steadily since early August but with countries in Europe grappling with a a resurgence of the virus, Peru’s government is seeking to allay public concern that another devastating wave of infections is around the corner. Martos told Lima-based Canal N that the government’s cautious approach to reopening the economy will help reduce the risk of a major resurgence. “Unlike Europe, we’re reactivating economic activities gradually,” he said.
Peru authorized most industries to reopen between May and July but many businesses still aren’t allowed to operate at full capacity. Restaurants and department stores will be allowed to operate at 50% and 60% capacity respectively starting Thursday, an increase of 10 percentage points on July-September levels. Bars, gyms and cinemas will remain shut. International flights will restart next week, though to a limited number of South American countries.
The slow reopening is inflicting more pain on an economy that’s posted the biggest contraction among major economies in the second quarter. Peru’s Health Ministry on Monday reported 62 new virus deaths, the lowest since April, while just over 8,000 people were being treated in hospital, down from more than 14,000 about six weeks ago.
Elsewhere in Latin America Argentina, which continues to lead the world in daily deaths on a 7-day moving average per capita, reported a record 13,477 cases on Tuesday. The government unveiled a plan to boost daily testing capacity. Fiocruz Institute warned of a reduction in availability of ICU beds in three Brazilian states, including Amazonas. Chile’s unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped after eight consecutive months on the rise, as the government started easing lockdown measures imposed during the pandemic and the retail sector recovered.
Peru will lift quarantine measures for most of the country starting July 1, easing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns as it faces a severe economic slide.
Mandatory isolation orders will end for all but a handful of departments, according to a government decree issued late Friday, which left in place a state of emergency until July 31. Children and the elderly will continue to face restrictions and borders will remain closed.
The country of 32 million enacted severe lockdown measures in mid-March to stem the spread of the coronavirus, deploying soldiers to the streets to enforce stay-at-home measures.
The virus spread rapidly anyway, leaving Peru with nearly 9,000 deaths and more than 272,000 cases as of Friday, the highest caseload in Latin America after Brazil and the sixth-highest in the world, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The country has been gradually reopening the economy since May and is due to start the third of four phases next month, but the lockdown has taken a toll. The International Monetary Fund forecasts a 13.9% contraction this year, the steepest drop among major economies in the region.