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Weekly Report - 28 May 2020 (WR-20-21)

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC-HAITI: Warnings of a ‘perfect storm’

Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina has ordered a re-opening of the economy after the country registered a decline in new coronavirus (Covid-19) infections. The move comes, however, as neighbouring Haiti has recently emerged as a hotspot for new cases amid concerns that the return of Haitians from the Dominican Republic itself (which has registered more than 15,000 confirmed cases and approaching 500 fatalities) could be fuelling the rise in new infections.

Having declared a national emergency on 19 March [WR-20-15] (since extended until 1 June), on 19 May President Medina announced a decline in the rate of transmission, with between 1.2 and 1.4 new cases for every Covid-19 case, down from five new infections initially. The same day he announced a phased reopening, as of 20 May, of the economy, which the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Eclac) expects will register zero growth in 2020 - the highest in the whole region bar Guyana.

  • Reopening the economy

Under phase one of the Dominican government’s plan to reopen the economy, public transport resumes, curfew hours are reduced, barber shops, beauty salons and medical offices resume activities but work only by appointment, and workers return to their duties (up to a half of the workforce in micro, small and medium sized businesses, and up to 25% in large firms). The next phases see more employees allowed to return to work, with all companies to resume operations with 100% of staff by final phase (four) estimated for 5 July at which point the tourism sector - hotels, airports, gyms, and restaurants - will also open.

Medina’s announcement regarding the economy, which took place the same day as he held a virtual meeting with his Haitian peer Jovenel Moïse to discuss “harmonising” both nations’ response to Covid-19, comes amid mounting concerns about the exponential rise in cases in Haiti. While the Dominican Republic confirmed its first Covid-19 case on 1 March, the disease was slow to reach Haiti, with the first cases only registered on 19 March, a delay attributed to low levels of tourism due to political instability. However, while Haiti has reported some 1,200 Covid-19 cases and 33 deaths, over 300 new cases were reported in the space of three days this week.

Concerns about the rapid spread of the virus in Haiti and its provenance from the Dominican Republic had already been raised earlier this month by Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO). On 5 May she warned of a ‘perfect storm’ approaching in Haiti, noting that while the country had reported relatively few cases compared with the Dominican Republic, “there are already 17,000 Haitians who have returned from the DR, where there is community transmission…a number expected to reach 55,000 in two weeks”. According to the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM), between 17 March and 17 May, 132,801 Haitians crossed the shared border, despite Haiti’s closure of its border on 19 March, returning to their home country due to a lack of work opportunities in the midst of the Dominican lockdown.

Deportations continue

Continued deportations from the US of individuals known to have tested positive for coronavirus is also fanning concerns regarding the spread of the disease in Haiti. On 19 May US Senator Edward Markey wrote to the US Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, urging him to “immediately halt deportations” to Haiti during the pandemic and questioning why the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reportedly planned to deport to Haiti individuals known to have tested positive.

This follows calls from a string of civil-society groups and other organisations last month [WR-20-17], and prompted US Representative Frederica Wilson on 11 May to introduce the Haitian Deportation Relief Act, which calls for the suspension of deportations of Haitian nationals until the pandemic has ended in both the US and Haiti. Wilson reiterated warnings that Haiti’s public health infrastructure is at severe risk of being overwhelmed, citing a survey of 76% of health facilities which found only 24 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds and the capacity to ventilate 62 patients in a country of 11m people.