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COVID-19 patients lie in beds at a field hospital in a gym in Santo Andre, a city in Brazil's Sao Paulo state.

MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP via Getty Images

Three sewing machines and a bet on the future – that’s what you’ll find down a dimly lit, decaying corridor of shops off Buenos Aires’s teeming Santa Fe Avenue.

The venture belongs to Yannina Cordero, a 52-year-old building manager and dress maker, who has rented a small shop in which to mend clothes. It allows for better physical distancing for her clients than the apartment she shares with her son.

If a pandemic is measured in stories of survival, this is one. Ms. Cordero has already battled the coronavirus. Now she offers bargain prices to clients who can’t afford much more. “We’re all worried – not just that things are going to close again, but that people are going to keep dying,” she said.

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The story of the pandemic is also in Calabar, a favela in the coastal Brazilian city of Salvador, where Vitor Hugo Carvalho Dos Santos, a boxing coach and father of two, tries to tuck his family away as much as possible as a virulent menace roars at the gates.

His community is still buzzing with activity as neighbours struggle to eke out a living in the midst of a supercharged wave of COVID-19. Brazil is on a record-breaking streak – as many as 3,600 deaths in a single day. Its largest city, Sao Paolo, buries people at night to cope with demand for funerals.

“How am I feeling?” Mr. Dos Santos says. “I’m feeling vulnerable.”

Daily new confirmed COVID-19 deaths

Rolling 7-day average per million people

in the total population.*

8

South

America

7

6

European

Union

5

4

3

North

America

2

1

0

March 1,

2020

April 30

Aug. 8

Nov. 16

Jan. 5,

2021

March 30

*Limited testing and challenges in the attribution of the cause of

death means that the number of confirmed deaths may not be an

accurate count of the true number of deaths from COVID-19.

the globe and mail, Source: our world in data

(via Johns Hopkins University CSSE COVID-19 Data)

Daily new confirmed COVID-19 deaths

Rolling 7-day average per million people in the total population.*

8

South

America

7

6

European

Union

5

4

3

North

America

2

1

0

March 1,

2020

April 30

Aug. 8

Nov. 16

Jan. 5,

2021

March 30

*Limited testing and challenges in the attribution of the cause of

death means that the number of confirmed deaths may not be an

accurate count of the true number of deaths from COVID-19.

the globe and mail, Source: our world in data

(via Johns Hopkins University CSSE COVID-19 Data)

Daily new confirmed COVID-19 deaths

Rolling 7-day average per million people in the total population.*

8

South

America

7

6

European

Union

5

4

3

North

America

2

1

0

March 1,

2020

April 30

Aug. 8

Nov. 16

Jan. 5,

2021

March 30

*Limited testing and challenges in the attribution of the cause of death means that the number of confirmed

deaths may not be an accurate count of the true number of deaths from COVID-19.

the globe and mail, Source: our world in data

(via Johns Hopkins University CSSE COVID-19 Data)

Latin America is staring into the pandemic abyss again, as COVID-19 rears its ugly head for a second time in a region that has barely recovered from its first bout with the infectious disease.

The damage has been wide and it has been deep. With 8.4 per cent of the world’s population, Latin America and the Caribbean account for more than 27 per cent of the COVID-19 death toll, arguably making it the region hardest hit by the pandemic.

Economies built on grossly unequal societies have buckled under lockdowns that blinked on and off for most of 2020. As a whole, GDP sank 7.7 per cent last year, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Some countries are bouncing back, but there are now 209 million people living in poverty in this part of the world – 22 million more than in 2019 – with 78 million in extreme conditions, ECLAC reports. The extent of the damage remains hard to quantify: Mexico announced this week it had undercounted deaths by at least 100,000, pushing its toll so far to more than 300,000.

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The region is confronting a grim reality as more contagious variants rip through countries that had relaxed restrictions through the summer months.

With the global vaccine race in full throttle, most regions here are struggling to get an inoculation campaign off the ground, fighting complacency and begging residents not to let their guard down. Meanwhile, the same economic conditions that forced people to head out to work in the first wave are just as present in the second.

“Latin America and the Caribbean is not going to reach herd immunity in 2021. That’s the first thing we have to recognize,” said Alicia Barcena Ibarra, the executive secretary of ECLAC, during a virtual conference about equitable vaccine access put on last week by the European Union-Latin American and Caribbean Foundation.

“Developed countries have purchased enough vaccines to be able to vaccinate their citizens almost three times, while most developing countries will be lucky to secure one dose for every 10 people in 2021,” said Rebeca Grynspan, an economist and Ibero-American Secretary-General, at the EU-LAC Foundation conference.

As of the start of March, the region had received 37 million doses of vaccines – enough to fully vaccinate just 2.8 per cent of the population, said Ms. Grynspan, who is from Costa Rica.

“We have a situation where a group of countries have 45.5 per cent of the purchase contracts [of vaccines] even though they only represent 12.9 per cent of the world’s population,” said Ms. Ibarra, a biologist from Mexico. That group consists of the European Union, the United States, Britain, Canada and Japan.

Daily COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Rolling 7-day average per 100 people

in the total population.*

0.6

North

America

0.5

0.4

European

Union

0.3

0.2

South

America

0.1

0.0

Dec. 15,

2020

Jan. 15,

2021

Feb. 4

Feb. 24

March 30

*This is counted as a single dose, and may not equal the total

number of people vaccinated, depending on the specific dose

regime (e.g. people receive multiple doses).

the globe and mail,

Source: Official Our World in Data

Daily COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Rolling 7-day average per 100 people in the total population.*

0.6

North

America

0.5

0.4

European

Union

0.3

0.2

South

America

0.1

0.0

Dec. 15,

2020

Jan. 15,

2021

Feb. 4

Feb. 24

March 30

*This is counted as a single dose, and may not equal the total number of

people vaccinated, depending on the specific dose regime (e.g. people

receive multiple doses).

the globe and mail, Source: Official Our World in Data

Daily COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Rolling 7-day average per 100 people in the total population.*

0.6

North

America

0.5

0.4

European

Union

0.3

0.2

South

America

0.1

0.0

Dec. 15,

2020

Jan. 15,

2021

Feb. 4

Feb. 24

March 30

*This is counted as a single dose, and may not equal the total number of people

vaccinated, depending on the specific dose regime (e.g. people receive multiple doses).

the globe and mail, Source: Official Our World in Data

The equality gap is not only evident between wealthy countries and developing ones, but within the region itself, with the majority of vaccines ending up in the hands of four countries: Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

The region expects to receive 280 million vaccine doses by the end of the year through COVAX, an international initiative trying to ensure equitable access to vaccines. So far, the shipments are a trickle against the need.

The scramble for vaccines has played out in myriad ways on the ground. Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, launched legal action to clear the way for it to buy its own vaccines. Argentina has held off on delivering second doses in order to stretch out its stock, as cases skyrocket to 14,000 a day.

The threat of the variant from Brazil has also forced several countries to shut the door to their giant neighbour, or to try to establish an “epidemiological blockade,” as Colombia has, by prioritizing the vaccination of communities that border Brazil in the Amazon.

Then there are the scandals around the administration of vaccines in places such as Argentina and Peru, where civil servants, politicians and people with connections got preferential treatment and jumped the queue.

Chile stands out on the continent with a vaccination campaign that is among the fastest in the world, thanks to deals it inked early on with providers. As of this week, 36 per cent of its population – more than 6.5 million people – have received a first dose, and 20 per cent have both. But the number of cases are the highest they have ever been – more than 7,000 a day in a country of 18 million – as officials implore people not to abandon physical distancing just because they have been vaccinated. Most of the country is in lockdown.

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A homeless man in Santiago, Chile's capital, holds his 'I got vaccinated' card after getting a dose of CoronaVac.

Ivan Alvarado/REuters

In Uruguay, as vaccination ramps up, contagion is at record numbers. In Rivera, which borders Brazil, officials have been racing to apply vaccines in an attempt to seal itself off from the more contagious P1 variant, believed to have originated from the Amazonian city of Manaus. But with an open 12-kilometre border, the variant is among them.

“I am confident in our vaccination campaign,” said Richard Sander, mayor of Rivera. “What I’m worried about is that we’re not taking care of ourselves at the same rate that we are vaccinating,” he said.

It’s a refrain that also has urgency across the border. Brazil is experiencing the “biggest sanitary and hospital collapse” in its history, according to the Fiocruz institute, a renowned centre for public-health research based in Rio de Janeiro.

The country, with a population of 210 million, has recorded more than 12 million cases and 315,000 deaths. “We are paying for many wrong choices. It’s very serious,” said Margareth Portela, a senior researcher with Fiocruz.

A supporter of Brazil's president puts his image on a car in Brasilia, the capital, at a March 31 commemoration of a 1964 military coup.

Eraldo Peres/The Associated Press

The pandemic exposed how Brazil – and Latin America in general – is heterogeneous in terms of its distribution of resources. Manaus, for example, is the only place in the Amazonas that has ICU beds – and they are few. It ran out of oxygen tanks in January. But one of the most significant problems has been a lack of central co-ordination from the government that left states and municipalities on their own.

That’s on top of the obstruction emanating from President Jair Bolsonaro, who has minimized the virus and consistently worked against efforts by local leaders to impose restrictions. Facing an uproar over recent skyrocketing death rates, Mr. Bolsonaro has struck a more conciliatory tone and promised more leadership. Still, this week, several of his cabinet ministers tendered their resignation amid the chaos.

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“When you have a president that appears all the time without masks, saying that masks are not necessary, that if you use a vaccine you will become an alligator, it’s really incredible,” Dr. Portela said. “We still have some people who say that these numbers are produced by the newspapers or the media to make people think the pandemic is a huge problem in Brazil because they want to take out the president. It’s stupid to think like that.”

Dr. Portela expects it to get worse before it gets better. But she is optimistic that once vaccines are in hand, the outlook in Brazil, which has a robust vaccination system, will improve. On Friday, the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo said it had developed its own COVID-19 vaccine, and that it could have 40 million shots prepared by July. The country has already inked deals to produce the CoronaVac and AstraZeneca vaccines.

The key for the region, Ms. Grynspan said, is production capacity. Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim put up the money last year to manufacture Oxford’s AstraZeneca in a joint venture between laboratories in Argentina and Mexico. But a worldwide supply shortage has stalled that production line.

In the meantime, the battle is waged in hospitals across the continent, by people such as Priscila Pastor da Mota, a 35-year-old physiotherapist in Salvador. She has been on the COVID-19 front lines since the beginning in the intensive care unit of Ernesto Simoes Filho Hospital, which is running at capacity.

Although she feels calmer this year because medical professionals are more secure in their response, the toll of living a year in isolation, unable to embrace family, has been immense. Therapeutic talks with a psychologist friend have helped her cope with the anxiety. Her surroundings also bring her peace.

“I take a walk on the beach. I go for a swim. I take in that view, that is so beautiful,” she said.

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It’s another story of survival in a pandemic.

At the gym in Santo Andre, Brazil, patients recuperate from COVID-19.

MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP via Getty Images


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