Thursday, 16 July 2020

Costa Rica launches offensive to contain advance of COVID-19 among agricultural laborers

"We must remove this false idea that it is only a Nicaraguan population. At least half are Costa Rican and the rest of other nationalities, such as Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and Guatemalans," said the head of the Collective Health Area, of the CCSS

(QCOSTARICA) The second pandemic wave strikes agricultural laborers in the northern zone, accustomed to constantly moving in search of work through border towns while living in poverty, overcrowded and without insurance, drinking water or food.

CCSS teams in fieldwork in the northern area, testing to detect COVID-19 among farm laborers. In the photograph, the medical teams are in a La Trocha, near the border with Nicaragua. Photo: Courtesy CCSS

The actions of different state institutions are concentrated in six districts and two cantons of that portion of the country, where the orange alert was expanded this Sunday, seeking to contain the advance of the covid-19 among those populations, considered among the most vulnerable to the new coronavirus.

The doctor Guiselle Guzmán Saborío, head of the Collective Health Area, of the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS), has coordinated the field work of a large team that has worked in the northern area since last week. Describe what they found there with these words:

- paying the bills -

“It is a fairly poor area, with a population that flows and is very dynamic. They move where there is employment. And the virus moves with them.

“We found people from Peñas Blancas de San Ramón with a great relationship with Cariari, in Pococí de Limón, because they go from one place to another: tomorrow, they work in a pineapple farm, another week in a banana plantation. Here the issue is not nationality. We must remove this false idea that it is only a Nicaraguan population. That is not the reality,” said Guzmán.

“At least half are Costa Rican,” she said, and the rest of other nationalities, such as Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and Guatemalans.

“In the case of Nicaraguans, many have already been in Costa Rica for 30 or more years, with two or more generations born here,” Guzmán added,

The overcrowding in which these agricultural laborers live, and the associated poverty, explains why it is common to find complete families, with seven or more members, sharing the same room.

- paying the bills -

It is a population without insurance or access to basic services, such as electricity or water, conditions that, according to Guzmán, facilitate the transmission of the virus by having little job and family security.

“The situation is forcing authorities that coordinate containment actions in that area to think of shelters to move those who do not have the minimum conditions in their homes to meet the recommended minimum isolation of 14 days,” the director of Health Surveillance, of the Ministry of Health, Rodrigo Marín Rodríguez, confirmed to Noticias Fortuna.

In Costa Rica, this Monday, 24 new cases of the new coronavirus were registered, for a total of 1,342 accumulated since March.

Plants that do not take measures, ‘will be closed’

The Minister of Agriculture, Renato Alvarado, confirmed the complexity of the situation that is being handled there.

“It is an exposed area. It is open. Farm work and construction are carried out by a lot of foreign labor. As the borders are closed to foreigners, this puts pressure on the agricultural sector, which is in the harvest season.

“Conglomerates have been detected at times during harvest where a lot of labor is required,” said the Minister.

- paying the bills --

Mobile teams more to areas to rest laborers. Photo C

The Minister added that they are working with area businessmen to apply the established protocols for distancing in the field, the use of face masks, hand washing and disinfection processes.

“Unfortunately, they are not infallible processes, no matter how much the protocols are followed, there is always the possibility that someone is sick and generates sources of contamination, ” acknowledged Alvarado, who supports the warning by the Minister of Health to close farms and plants that do not comply.

Another issue is the transfer of laborers from one area to another, which is being reviewed to guarantee the workers security.

The Chamber of Exporters of Costa Rica (Cadexco), through its president, Laura Bonilla, did not hide its concern over the increase in the transit of undocumented migrants from Nicaragua.

“The exporting sector calls for border controls to be strengthened one hundred percent and for surveillance to be intensified with more checkpoints on highways to identify and expel those undocumented migrants who are detected,” the Chamber said in a press release.

Cadexco data reveals that the Huetar Norte region is the third in national exports: in 2019, the Chamber reported, exports from the region were over US$1 billion dollars, to some 79 countries.


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