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On March 11, El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele declared a nationwide quarantine of 21 days, which could be extended, to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the small Central American country. There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in El Salvador, although journalists have put into question the veracity of official numbers.
All schools were immediately suspended and it is unclear how parents and caregivers will adapt to the education system's lockdown. On the other hand, international trade will continue. The government announced that it will open centers to collect food and supplies for quarantined people.
Bukele referred to Italy in his speech, which has also gone into lockdown to prevent the spread outside of its borders. To date, there are 17,660 people infected with the virus and 1,266 deaths in Italy.
"Hermanos salvadoreños, como les dije, esta decisión va a ser criticada por muchos, pero reitero: ¿qué daría Italia por estar en nuestra posición?", Presidente @nayibbukele. pic.twitter.com/4YisWhF1ag
— Casa Presidencial (@PresidenciaSV) March 11, 2020
“Salvadoran brothers, like I said, this decision will be criticized by many, but I repeat: What would Italy give to be in our position?” President Nayib Bukele said.
He continued: “Our health system is not at Italy's level, it's not at South Korea's level.”
El Salvador's health system has frequently been reported in the press for its lack of medicine, funding, and medical staff.
Today, in El Salvador, only nationals, residents, and diplomats can enter the country. If the traveler comes from a country considered at risk, they must spend 30 days in quarantine. On March 12, confusion reigned at the international airport of San Salvador as people have reportedly tried to enter the country by force.
On March 13, the government presented two decrees to the Legislative Assembly, which, if passed, would implement a national state of emergency and an exceptional regime in El Salvador, limiting freedom of assembly and freedom of movement.
Reactions on social media
Salvadoran YouTube commentator José Valladares, as well as many other Salvadorans on Twitter, supported the president's decision.
Pues excelente decisión del gobierno.
?? Ahora, nos toca acatar medidas sanitarias y que no cunda el pánico.
Oremos para que todo se normalice.
— José Valladares (@soyjoseyoutuber) March 12, 2020
Well, excellent governmental decision.
Now, it's up to us to heed to hygienic measures and not panic.
Let's pray so that everything normalizes.
Now that #Coronavid19 is almost inevitably starting to hit #CentralAmerica, countries in the region are responding in different ways, struggling between maintaining a lifeline for their fragile economies and the need to prevent the spread of the disease [THREAD]
— Tiziano Breda (@TizBreda) March 11, 2020
Award-winning Nicaraguan journalist hails Nayib Bukele's decision and compares it to Nicaragua's alleged inaction in preventing the spread. She also criticized how Nicaragua's Health Ministry denied care to anti-government demonstrators in 2018.
La medidas adoptadas por @nayibbukele en #ElSalvador ante coronavirus son acertadas, prevenir antes que lamentar una muerte. En #Nicaragua parece que régimen tienen un gran letrero "BIENVENIDO CORONAVIRUS". Ya el sistena de salud dejó morir a heridos x represión en 2018 y ahora?
— Lucia100%Noticias (@LuciaPinedaU) March 12, 2020
Nayib Bukele's measures in El Salvador are reasonable, it's better to prevent rather than lament a death. In Nicaragua, it seems like the government has a huge sign saying “WELCOME CORONAVIRUS.” The health system already let wounded people die during the repression in 2018, and now?
On the other hand, Salvadoran youth ask how to comply with health instructions if they do not have access to running, clean water. El Salvador has been going through a public water crisis for the past years and worsened in January 2020.
They want me to wash my hands often but they don't even give us running water in my neighborhood.
Lecturer and research associate at Dartmouth University, Jorge Cuéllar, however, sees a populist move in Bukele's immediate decision:
Still thinking about Bukele’s alarmist 21-day decree yesterday that ‘immediately’ quarantined El Salvador. It only ‘immediately’ induced panic. The emergency session was not the best way to address this. Most of it was populist theater.
— Jorge Cuéllar (@infrapolitics) March 12, 2020
Deportations of migrants and asylum seekers from the U.S. and Mexico will continue, causing concern among advocates and officials.
Advocates and officials are concerned that the steady arrival of deportees from the U.S. and Mexico to Central America could complicate the region’s ability to contain the coronavirus. #TodayInLatinAmerica https://t.co/EAFhDhi6hM
— Latin Dispatch (@LatAmDispatch) March 13, 2020
Other Salvadorans responded with humor.
El Salvador right now.