In Bolivia, bodies are piling up at homes and on the streets again, echoing the horrific images of last summer, when a deadly surge in coronavirus infections overwhelmed the country’s fragile medical system. The Bolivian police say that in January they recovered 170 bodies of people thought to have died from Covid-19, and health officials say intensive-care units are full.
“When 10 or 20 patients die, their beds are full again in a few hours,” said Carlos Hurtado, a public health epidemiologist in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city.
The resurgence of the virus in Bolivia is part of a larger second wave throughout Latin America, where some of the world’s strictest quarantine measures are giving way to pandemic fatigue and concerns about the economy.
The International Monetary Fund said on Monday that it was revising its 2021 growth forecast for Latin America and the Caribbean to 4.1 percent from 3.6 percent. Warning that the surge in cases could threaten an economic recovery that is already expected to take longer than in other parts of the world, the fund predicted that regional output will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023.
While the number of new cases is falling, deaths remain at near-record highs in many parts of the region, just as some governments begin vaccination efforts.
Brazil and Mexico have each been averaging over 1,000 daily Covid-19 deaths for weeks; their total pandemic death toll is now surpassed only by that of the United States. Deaths in Brazil have matched their summer peak, while in Mexico they are far higher than any earlier peak, though they have begun falling in recent days.
In Bolivia last summer, mortality figures reviewed by The New York Times suggested that the country’s real death toll was nearly five times the official tally, indicating that Bolivia had suffered one of the world’s worst epidemics. About 20,000 more people died from June through August than in past years, according to a Times analysis — a vast number in a country of about 11 million people.
Bolivia is now reporting an average of 60 coronavirus deaths per day, approaching the numbers from last summer.Experts believe the higher mortality rate is caused by the more contagious virus variants originating in neighboring Brazil and elsewhere, but they lack the instruments to analyze the virus’s genetic code.
Despite the rising death rate, the Bolivian authorities have not implemented the quarantine measures used to help curb the virus’s first wave a year ago. Officials in Bolivia and other Latin American nations are touting their nascent vaccination programs as a reason to avoid lockdowns, even though few countries in the region beyond Brazil have procured a meaningful number of doses.
Only 20,000 vaccine doses have arrived in Bolivia, although the government says it plans to vaccinate eight million people by September.