Published April 9 by Sputnik News (sptnkne.ws/BYXh), this excerpted article was translated by Michael Otto.
On March 13, Venezuela and Uruguay confirmed the first cases of coronavirus in their territories, completing the Latin American map of the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a month, Uruguay, a country of 3.5 million people, had more than twice as many infected people as the Bolivarian Republic, which has a population nine times larger. What happened?
Every afternoon since the mandatory quarantine began on March 17, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has spoken on television and radio. Vice President Delcy Rodríguez and Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez also report on new cases of coronavirus infection in the country, how the disease was transmitted, geographical locations, ages of the victims and the number of deaths.
They provide information on the evolution of the quarantine, the compliance with it, and the arrival of medical supplies from allied countries, such as China, Russia and Cuba, and international organizations, such as the Pan American Health Organization. They also discuss the situation of the pandemic in Latin America and the world to place Venezuela and the rise in the curve of cases in context.
The Venezuelan government very quickly initiated measures, including the daily briefings, to meet the threat head-on and prevent an uncontrolled outbreak of the coronavirus. Those decisions involved putting millions of people under quarantine, closing cities and stopping much movement in the economy.
The decision to confront the pandemic early is one reason why Venezuela’s contagion curve did not accelerate vertically as in other countries of the world, like Italy, Spain, the United States or regional countries like Ecuador and Brazil.
As of April 9, a total of 171 [175 as of April 11] cases were reported in Venezuela, 65 recovered and nine dead.
“We have a flat curve, that is to say few new cases show up daily [Johns Hopkins data, tinyurl.com/uwns6z5/], and therefore we have a system of care for those cases,” explains Dr. Héctor Ciavaldini, currently a university professor at the Military Hospital and the Misión Milagro. This reality is due to two key measures that were taken.
The Venezuelan government “observed with great responsibility what was happening in the world without taking it lightly and this gave us plenty of time to prepare,” explained Ciavaldini. “When the pandemic reached our continent and threatened the country, we decided to initiate a border closure, to quarantine seven states and, in a short time, to announce a total quarantine.”
The quarantine was accompanied by the mandatory use of mouth coverings in public. The immediate response of most of society was to respect the quarantine, a situation that, predictably, has taken on increasing complications, particularly economic ones, as the weeks go by.
In charge of all measures related to the epidemic was the Presidential Committee for the Prevention of Coronavirus, which received international advice, primarily from China and Cuba.
Early case detection
What Maduro called “extended and personalized screening” went hand-in-hand with the closure of the cities and the country — the other key aspect stressed by Dr. Ciavaldini: “We were able to conduct a great national survey because we have a tool, which is called ‘Sistema Patria’ — a centralized database maintained by the state — where more than 20 million Venezuelans are registered.”
Millions of people took advantage of that system to signal if they presented possible symptoms of the coronavirus. The government deployed [teams of health care workers going door-to-door] to visit each case and, if necessary, conduct a free screening.
Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said that 17,854,850 people have answered the medical survey of the Sistema Patria, which yielded 128,000 individuals with apparent symptoms, of which 124,201 have been visited through house-to-house deployment.
The survey “allowed the Government to know the additional risk factors, those suffering from hypertension, diabetes, respiratory diseases, which are liable to trigger the complications of the disease.”
This massive and personalized process was combined with measures taken for those who arrived and still arrive from abroad [such as a medical examination and quarantine].
The comprehensive response
On April 8, more than 90 tons of medical equipment and supplies from the Pan American Health Organization, UNICEF and Russia arrived in Venezuela for the prevention and control of the coronavirus.
International cooperation has been another pillar of the comprehensive approach to the pandemic in this country that has weathered a sustained economic blockade by the U.S.
The aid, with the purchase of equipment, supplies and medicines, has strengthened “the preparedness of both public and private health care centers, which were readied from the first moment that the potential epidemic was seen likely to hit the country,” explained Ciavaldini.
Different levels of health care were strengthened: “Hospitals were prepared to deal with a probable epidemic, tents were set up in annexes to receive symptomatic people, to triage them before the disease was detected and provide the necessary tests.”
That strengthening also occurred with the comprehensive diagnostic centers — central points to perform free coronavirus testing — and with the procedures of the house-to-house visits, coordinated with the [People’s Organization of Communal Power].
This set of measures kept the contagion curve under control and also prepared for a possible scenario of increased cases. Dr. Ciavaldini suggested that it is important to maintain the quarantine in order to keep the situation that way: “If we were to suspend the quarantine, with an unknown number of cases out there, which most of the time are asymptomatic, the epidemic could be unleashed and the curve would go up exponentially as has happened in several places around the world.”
Flattening the curve worldwide
Ciavaldini raised another question, a fundamental one — the impossibility of an isolated solution country by country: “It is very important that the curve be flattened in the countries that surround us and the whole world. Colombia and Brazil have a really lamentable prospect at the moment, and as long as the epidemic continues its course there, we cannot sing a victory song here.”
The prospect of an end to the quarantine is uncertain, both in timing and in formal terms. Ciavaldini mentioned the possibility of “periodic quarantines,” as did Jorge Rodríguez where “we go out on the street in a monitored system, probably everyone wearing a face mask, a lot of vigilance, and in case of an outbreak we go back to quarantine.”
[Scientists around the world are] working on the discovery of a virucide or a vaccine [which could provide a definitive solution]. As a matter of public record, that should take between 12 and 18 months. Meanwhile, the goal is to keep the curve under control, reduce new cases to zero and allow those who have become ill to recover.