While we shouldn’t panic, the coronavirus outbreak should be taken seriously. It’s new to humans, so we don’t have any way to fight it yet. That means we should do everything we can to prevent it from spreading from person-to-person.
The virus arrived late in Latin America, mainly brought to the region by travelers arriving from European countries. Countries reacted fast and strong, closing their borders to foreigners, forcing people to stay at home, and asking those who arrived from Europe or China to self-quarantine.
Nevertheless, not everyone complied, and the effects are already visible. In Uruguay, Carmela Hontou, a fashion designer, returned from Europe and went to a 500-guest wedding, despite having symptoms of the virus. The result? 44 guests contracted the disease at the party.
This means that half of the 79 coronavirus cases in Uruguay, with 3.5 million inhabitants, can be linked to just a single person. Hontou went to the wedding a few hours after arriving from Spain, also meeting with her 84-year-old mother, and attending a lunch with a group of people the next day.
The fashion designer said she didn’t consider unwise attending the wedding while recognizing she had symptoms of coronavirus before going back to Uruguay. “I couldn’t even talk, I had 41 degrees of fever,” she told the news website Infobae. “I brought the subject [coronavirus] up with the doctor but he paid no attention.”
Breaking the quarantine rules could have legal consequences for Hontou. She may face legal charges due to “spreading contagious diseases,” as per Uruguay’s penal code, as well as her sons – who visited her mother, despite the fact that she should have been in quarantine.
In a similar episode, an Argentine who had arrived in Uruguay from Europe decided to flee the hospital where he was in observation and take a ferry to Argentina. In the middle of the trip, he started showing symptoms, so the onboard doctor performed a test of coronavirus, which was positive.
Over 400 people were traveling with him on the ferry, all of which are now forced to stay in hotels in quarantine for two weeks in case they also have the disease. “I want to believe he honestly didn’t know he had the virus before taking the ferry. If that’s not true, humanity is lost,” a passenger told a local media outlet.
Argentina, which has already confirmed 128 cases, is also having difficulties convincing people to stay at home. Despite a full lockdown of the country for two weeks, with people not going to work, hundreds decided to take their cars to the beach and use the days off from work as vacations.
The government is performing inspections on foreigners who recently arrived in the country to control if they are fulfilling the mandatory two-week quarantine, having already expelled 270 people for not doing so. Local trains, buses, and flights were canceled to discourage people from traveling.
Latin American countries hope to avoid a steep rise in the number of cases, as seen now in Spain and Italy. But for that to happen it’s of key importance to stay at home as much as possible, especially in the case of people who returned from high-risk countries.