With no officially confirmed cases, El Salvador locks itself down to prevent COVID-19

Screenshot of Nayib Bukele's press conference on March 11, 2020. Source: El Diario de Hoy.

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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.

“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.

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.

Analyst Tiziano Breda from the International Crisis group highlights how dependent Central American economies are on trade, yet believes that El Salvador's decision was the best solution.

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.

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:

Deportations of migrants and asylum seekers from the U.S. and Mexico will continue, causing concern among advocates and officials.

“An official at the Salvadoran Institute of Migration called for a suspension of deportations while the government prepares for the virus”, reported Latin America News Dispatch.

Other Salvadorans responded with humor.

View this post on Instagram

Gracias por protegernos presi @nayibbukele ??

A post shared by Humor Guanaco (@humorguanaco) on

El Salvador right now.

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