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Weekly Report - 14 May 2020 (WR-20-19)

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PERU: Quarantine pressure starting to show

When Peru first went into lockdown on 15 March, before a single coronavirus (Covid-19) death had been recorded in the country, President Martín Vizcarra was widely praised for his swift and decisive response. Almost two months later, the pressure is starting to show, as the quarantine has paralysed the country’s economy, but delivered only limited success in terms of public health.

President Vizcarra’s early call on quarantine undoubtedly minimised the effects of the health emergency, but even he admitted last week that the results “were not exactly what we expected” – the death toll continued to rise sharply until late April, and has subsequently plateaued rather than declined, doubling since the start of May to total 2,169 as of 13 May. The continued spread of the disease has been attributed by many in Peru to the continued activity of the country’s sizeable informal economy, largely overlooked by the government’s otherwise comprehensive economic stimulus strategy.

The cost of these measures – most recently placed by the economy minister, María Antonieta Alva, at 16% of GDP – has ensured that the pressures of Peru’s lengthy quarantine are not just medical. Vizcarra’s 8 May announcement that the state of emergency and quarantine had been extended until 24 May was contradicted somewhat by the start of the first phase of ‘economic reactivation’ earlier that day. While most Peruvians remain isolated, economic activities in certain sectors - mining & industry, construction, services & tourism, and retail - have begun to resume gradually.

Among these economic activities are the marketplaces identified by Vizcarra as a major source of infection – he has responded by seeking to improve regulation, limiting capacity to 50% of what would normally be allowed. Some indications of success are urgently needed; Vizcarra remains popular with the public, but his government’s relationship with congress has further deteriorated [WR-20-17]. Health Minister Víctor Zamora, only appointed on 20 March, is the latest member of the cabinet facing calls to resign. Prime Minister Vicente Zeballos refused to speculate on Zamora’s future, arguing that greater unity and co-operation are needed to bolster the country’s response to the pandemic.

Mercedes Aráoz

Peru’s congress formally accepted Mercedes Aráoz’s resignation as vice president on 7 May, submitted on 1 October 2019 during the constitutional crisis that led to the dissolution of congress. After President Vizcarra had ordered this dissolution on 30 September, Aráoz had been appointed interim president by congress – an appointment she accepted, only to resign the next day, under threat of facing judicial proceedings.