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Weekly Report - 18 June 2020 (WR-20-24)

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DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Extending the state of emergency

The Dominican Republic’s national legislature has approved an extension to the state of emergency to contain the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19), the fifth such extension since the measure was first implemented on 19 March. The extension was approved on 12 June, the day after the DR registered its highest daily number of new Covid-19 cases (629), casting further doubt on the process of opening up the economy, which began last month [WR-20-21], over which the government led by President Danilo Medina has already had to backtrack.

Having announced the process of re-opening the Dominican economy (which the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean [Eclac] forecasts will register zero growth in 2020 - the highest in the whole region bar Guyana), the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD) government revealed on 16 June that the conditions were not in place for starting the third phase of the process. The minister for the presidency, Gustavo Montalvo, told reporters that since 3 June, the start of the second phase, there had been a significant rise in the average daily number of new cases – from 350 in the first phase to 500 currently.

The legislature’s willingness to approve the extension also reflected concerns about the rise in infections - with 23,686 confirmed cases as of 15 June (including 615 fatalities). There had been uncertainty as to whether it would be approved due to complaints by the political opposition that the PLD was exploiting the government’s response to the pandemic in order to favour its candidates ahead of the 5 July general election (pushed back from 17 May).

The opposition Partido Revolucionario Moderno (PRM), whose presidential candidate and current frontrunner Luis Abinader revealed on 10 June that he had tested positive for Covid-19, had complained that the PLD was using the emergency to benefit Gonzalo Castillo, its presidential candidate. Castillo has been an active face of the official response, distributing medical supplies such as face masks. The opposition has also complained that the curfew, which remains in place despite the phased reopening of the economy, has made electoral campaigning difficult.

Voting intentions

The latest electoral surveys show Luis Abinader ahead of Gonzalo Castillo, with the vote going to a second round if no candidate wins over 50% of the vote. A survey by Instituto Dominicano de Estudios Aplicados, Mercadeo y Encuestas (Idéame), published in the local media on 15 June, showed Abinader on 52.5% to 34.4% for Castillo. This is similar to a poll published on 1 June by Mercado y Cuantificaciones which gave Abinader 51.2% to 33% for Castillo. Another survey, published by Noticias SIN on 28 May, showed Abinader defeating Castillo by 39%-37%, within the 3% margin of error, although it suggested Abinader would win at least 46% of the vote in a run-off, while Castillo would not obtain more than 42%.

Concerns in Haiti persist

Jean William Pape, a specialist in infectious diseases and co-chair of the Covid-19 Multisectoral Management Commission in Haiti, recently reiterated warnings that the continued spread of the virus in the Dominican Republic poses a threat for Haiti which, as of 16 June, had registered 4,441 cases with 76 fatalities. These concerns were echoed by Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) in her weekly briefing on 16 June. Etienne said “in the Caribbean, where most islands have not reported significant increases in Covid-19, we remain concerned about Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Both countries, which share an active border, continue to report a rise in new cases, particularly Haiti.”

This follows warnings by Etienne last month of a ‘perfect storm’ approaching in Haiti due to Haitians returning from the Dominican Republic [WR-20-21]. According to latest figures from the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 164,441 Haitians crossed the shared border between 17 March and 15 June, despite Haiti’s closure of its border on 19 March, returning to their home country due to a lack of work opportunities amid the Dominican lockdown.

While on 15 June Patrick Dely, the director of epidemiology at Haiti’s National Laboratory, said that the number of cases had peaked in Haiti, NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières have warned that, with just two laboratories in Haiti able to process Covid-19 tests, the number of cases is likely to be much higher than recorded.