While other countries in the Americas face the worst phase of the coronavirus epidemic, Costa Rica accumulates six days of sustained reduction in active cases and the lowest mortality from the epidemic outbreak on the continent.
Once again, the small and stable Central American democracy emerges (Costa Rica) as the best of its kind, with an advantageous universal public health system and a population that, for the most part, has complied with the sanitary measures issued by the Government.
The Costa Rican Ministry of Health reported a total of 687 coronavirus cases on Friday (April 24), 48 days after confirming the first patient, an American tourist from New York. It is the accumulated total infections after eight consecutive days in which the new patients have been less than the recovered.
The sum of new cases in the last eight days is 38 and recovered 128. This allowed active cases to decrease from 564 to 465 in the country of 5 million inhabitants. Meanwhile, the United States is about to take the place of Europe as the new focus of the epidemic, after surpassing the million infected.
Costa Rican health authorities report six deaths associated with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. This places the case fatality rate at 0.9%, the lowest among countries on the continent, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University, in the United States.
On Friday, only 12 coronavirus patients were in hospitals in the country. Of these, only seven were in the intensive care unit of hospitals equipped to care for patients with this virus.
“The response, in general from the population, has been satisfactory. They have understood the historic moment we are experiencing,” said Health Minister Daniel Salas on Wednesday.
“We have had a slight decrease (in active cases), but we are walking on an eggshell floor because the vast majority of people have not been infected. That is why we must be aware that a lot is missing,” he added at a press conference.
Although there are no conclusive explanations, experts attribute the good results, so far, to the comprehensive and free health system, the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), to the early detection of cases and to the majority compliance with the measures that the Ministry of Health recommends every day: hygiene, quarantine and physical distancing.
According to a Google report, based on mobile phone statistics, visits to shops and recreational places in Costa Rica fell 84% and to parks and beaches 82%; similar numbers to countries like Peru, which imposed a mandatory quarantine.
While most nations are engaged in an all-out fight to get mechanical ventilators to help critically ill COVID-19 breathe, Costa Rica has some 400 units and recently acquired some 300 more.
From March 18 – and until May 15 – Costa Rica has kept the entry of foreigners to its territory closed and has reinforced police surveillance at the land borders, in particular the northern border, where hundreds of Nicaraguans entered each week irregularly, the largest foreign population in the small country.
Currently, only Costa Rican nationals and foreigner residents are allowed entry, subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine.
In addition, all mass events are prohibited and the school on hold indefinitely. Restaurants work at 50% capacity. Bars, discos, and casinos remain closed. Utilities such as water and electricity cannot cut service due to non-payment, though President Carlos Alvarado asks those who can pay, should do so.
There is a bill before the legislative committee to postpone housing rents for up to three months, tenants catching up on their payments later in the year or early next year.
The country in effect is not under curfew or lockdown, as other countries in the region, putting in place restrictions on businesses that deal face-to-face with the public, such as retail shops, malls, restaurants, service businesses. Currently, businesses have to close by 7:00 pm on weekdays, operating at 50% capacity and closed on weekends.
Supermarkets, corner stores and pharmacies not restricted closed.
Vehicular restrictions across the country are in place during the week and only for grocery shopping and pharmacy on weekends from 5:00 am to 7:00 pm and total ban (with some exceptions) nightly from 7:00 pm to 5:00 am.
Weekend driving is only for local shopping. The fine for violating the restriction is about US$200 (¢110,000 colones), plus six points on the license and seizure of license plates and/or vehicle.
Beaches and national parks continue closed.
Violation of a quarantine order ranges in fines from US$790 to US$3,850 (¢450,000 to ¢2.2 million colones) and possible criminal charges.
“There are hypotheses that must be verified and what must happen in the following weeks must be seen, but I do believe that a success has been the strict follow-up of cases to see the transmission chains,” infectologist María Luisa Ávila told Reuters, who is a former Minister of Health (2006-2011) and former cChief of Infectious Disease at the National Children’s Hospital.
Although opposition deputies ask for massive tests, the Ministry of Health responds that it applies the necessary, according to the suspected cases they come across. The official figure (April 24) is 12,342 tests, 235 per 100,000 inhabitants, an amount that places the country at the midpoint in Latin America.
The slow progress of the disease in Costa Rica contrasts with that of its southern neighbor, Panama, which as of April 24, accumulates 5,166 cases of coronavirus and 146 deaths, with a population close to 4.2 million inhabitants, one million less than Costa Rica.
In Nicaragua, a neighbor of northern Costa Rica and the origin of 8% of the country’s population, the Government of Daniel Ortega only reports 10 cases and two deaths, although independent doctors and international organizations fear that the cases of infection is far from reality.
In fact, the laxity of Nicaragua, which has increased massive events, worries Costa Rica, whose government said it does not rule out taking international actions and asking the World Health Organization (WHO) to supervise the actions of the Ortega administration.
The article is translated from the Reuters report in Spanish on April 23; with editing and updated figures by the Q.