According to an article from BBC on-line on June 1, 2021 – Peru has the highest Covid death rate as a proportion of population in the world. The official death toll is more than 180,000, in a country of less than 33 million people. Why is Peru having such high numbers of COVID deaths?
Peru imposed one of the earliest and strictest lockdowns in Latin America back in March 2020 – before the UK and some other European countries. The county’s borders were shut, curfews were imposed, and people could only leave their homes for essential goods – but infections and deaths continued to rise. A second lockdown was introduced in January this year in the capital Lima and nine other regions following a wave of infections which brought hospitals close to collapse.Experts say Peru’s healthcare system was underprepared, and lacks sufficient funding. There’s also been shortage of oxygen needed to treat Covid patients, and the entire country has around 1,600 intensive care unit beds – far less than some neighbouring countries.
Peru has secured enough doses to vaccinate its entire population, but many of these vaccines are yet to be delivered and the rollout so far has failed to stem infections. Covid cases remain high – with more than 4,000 reported daily.
There are also several social and economic factors that can help explain why Peru has struggled to contain Covid cases. About 70% of the employed population in Peru work in the informal sector, which is one of the highest rates in Latin America. These jobs are by their nature unpredictable, and mean many workers have to choose between going out to work or not having enough money to survive.
The government has passed significant support measures to help people who lost their jobs and companies that lost income due to the pandemic – but only about 38% of Peruvian adults have a bank account, making quick digital payments largely impossible.
“Peruvians who went out to work had to use public transport, and to sell goods in very crowded markets,” Peruvian economist Hugo Ñopo told the BBC.
More than 40% of households in Peru do not have a refrigerator, according to a 2020 government survey. Many households “do not have logistics that allow them to stock up on food for many days”, Ñopo says.”They have to go out to stock up frequently and especially go to the markets,” he adds. Early in the pandemic, the markets which many Peruvians rely on have been identified as “the main sources of contagion” by the government.
On top of this, the latest National Household Survey suggests 11.8% of poor households in Peru live in overcrowded homes. Cramped housing makes social distancing harder and allows the virus to spread more easily.