QCOSTARICA – Many are waiting for the arrival of 2021, thinking that with the vaccine against Covid-19 it is the end of the pandemic.
However, January will not have major changes: the Government will continue to implement the sanitary vehicle restriction and even if Covid-19 cases on these dates skyrocket and continue to compromise the health system, there would be closures.
That is the word of Dr. Daniel Salas, Minister of Health, in an interview with La Republica.
The concern of Salas and others at the front of the pandemic, working around the clock to provide guidance and enact security measures to reduce the number of new cases of covid-19 in the country and deaths, that on Wednesday (December 23, 2020), rose to 2,065.
LR: This past week we’ve seen crowded streets and malls, the celebration for the soccer final and the announcement that 1 in 4 Costa Ricans will break their social bubble at Christmas and New Year.
Is this a bad omen?
Salas: It is difficult to recognize that we are in such a complicated scenario. One knows that if there is a traffic accident at the end it is attended at the INS and goes to the Caja, or if there is a heart attack there will always be the Caja, but we are reaching times when that guarantee that we take for granted, it is not anymore.
The mobility of people is a factor for there to be infections, but not if it occurs responsibly, with protocols, with a collective awareness that we can be bullets that carry the virus and we can cause someone else to die.
LR: But are there projections?
Salas: Projections there are many and different models. What we are seeing is that serious and severe cases are not going to be underestimated: they go to the hospital because they need it.
In this sense, a scenario of serious patients is materializing that is increasing, putting more and more pressure on the Caja system.
The safety net that we had in the Caja has already been broken, the attitude towards the virus part can cause that network not only to break, but also a matter that did not catch anything, we already have 2,000 deaths to date, becoming the main cause of death in the country that can reach 2,300 deaths at the end of the year, a very high number.
LR: Let’s talk about the sanitary vehicle restriction, will they continue to agree to it in January despite being such an unpopular measure?
Salas: Clearly! An independent study by the State of the Nation indicated with a very clear and solid methodology that the restriction has had an important effect in reducing cases.
It is clear that we will maintain it with all the possible nuances that the moment allows us, it has been one of the most effective measures for the same reason: the mobilization of people is what causes more transmissions and the restriction helps to limit it, especially after 10 pm when supervision is more difficult, there are more traffic accidents and people who are under the effects of alcohol.
At that time we have to try to do everything possible to reduce the hospital burden in all its edges.
LR: With the pressure from the hospital system, does that mean that no big changes are in sight in January, for example expanding the hours for restaurants and bars?
Salas: I do not rule it out, but at a time when mortality is increasing, we currently have an average of 17 deaths per day, a high number but if it increases a lot and if people begin to die in the homes, we will have to take stronger actions of closures.
LR: Is the vaccine for this month? Pfizer says they depend on you …
Salas: We are waiting for the vaccine to arrive, that depends on the pharmaceutical company. The moment I put it in the country we start to mobilize it without delay, we are ready.
The first batch of vaccines arrived Wednesday, December 23, after the Salas interview with La Republica
LR: Many people consider that the arrival of the vaccine is the end of the pandemic, why shouldn’t they see it that way?
Salas: We are going to have a vaccine that is going to be applied in small quantities because there is no great availability, we will not get millions of doses in a single shot because it is being distributed in all the countries of the world.
It is not that only with the smell that the vaccine has arrived, protocols, such as distancing, the use of a mask are over because the risk of transmission is still great and there may be strong outbreaks and tertiary waves.
The vaccine is the most powerful tool to end the pandemic but it is not instantaneous, the same vaccination process takes two doses (21 days for Pfizer and 28 days for AstraZeneca), then you have to wait 15 days for the defenses of the immune system begin to react and throw away the antibodies that will attack the virus.
We are talking about a month and a half for the process to be completed in one person.
On Wednesday, December 23, the government of Costa Rica announced new measures that take effect on December 31, to reduce the transmission of the virus by curtailing activity for New Year’s Eve and the first days of the new year:
- On Thursday, December 31, vehicles may not circulate after 7 pm with exceptions.
- Friday 1, Saturday 2, and Sunday, January 3: The sanitary vehicle restriction will be from 8 pm to 5:00 am, with exceptions.
Vehicle restrictions from January 4:
- Weekdays as of January 4, the vehicular restrictions will continue as for the month of December, a total restriction at night from 10:00 pm to 5:00 am, with exceptions.
- Weekends as of January 9 and during the remaining weekends of the month, a total restriction from 9:00 pm to 5:00 am, with exceptions.
- Weekday daytime restrictions apply to from 5:00 am to 10:00 pm on Mondays with vehicles with plates ending in 1 & 2, Tuesdays 3 & 4, Wednesday 5 & 6, Thursdays 7 & 8, and Fridays 9 & 0
- Weekend daytime restrictions apply from 5:00 am to 9:00 pm, only vehicles with even ending plates (0,2,4,6,8) may circulate on Saturdays and odd ending plates (1,3,5,7,9) on Sundays.
Editor’s note: The new health measures for January do not affect airport operations – that is the arrival and departure of flights – or border crossings.