We are fundraising for the Covid-19 Emergency Relief Effort in Guatemala. Learn more on our Just Giving page.
Coronavirus has affected the entire world and people in Guatemala are no exception. On 13th March 2020, the first case of Covid-19 was registered in Guatemala. It was a Guatemalan national who had come from Italy. Since then, the numbers have risen to 3,760 cases and 59 deaths (recorded at the time of writing).
Whilst these numbers may not be as high as other countries, the economic fallout of the pandemic has impacted millions in Guatemala. This is a country which already had nearly 60% of its population living below the poverty line and one of the highest rates of childhood malnutrition in the world. Those living in poverty have been hit the hardest by strict restrictions put in place to contain the pandemic.
"Guatemala moved fast in response to Coronavirus."
From just before the first case was recorded, President Alejandro Giammattei put in measures first banning people from certain European and Asian countries. Then on 16th March he closed the borders completely for anyone to enter (apart from Guatemalan nationals). At the same time he banned all public transportation (apart for some routes to hospitals) and other essential forms of transportation. This essentially forced people to stay within their cities or areas.
Two days after the first case was recorded, the president closed all schools and universities, cancelled the Semana Santa celebrations and any other public gatherings. A lockdown was introduced with only essential businesses, supermarkets, markets, pharmacies and hospitals being able to remain open. On the 21st March a curfew was introduced where no one was allowed onto the streets from 4pm to 4am.
Restrictions have recently been tightened with weekend-long curfews and sporadic opening and shutting of businesses. All markets are now shut and traders have been re-located to selling their goods in specially assigned stadiums, with a one-in-one-out policy.
"Restrictive Coronavirus measures in Guatemala have worsened an already vulnerable economic landscape"
The swift action taken by the president has kept the death rate relatively low in Guatemala compared to other countries. However, with the pandemic reaching its peak in Latin America, sentiments are divided on how the government has handled the situation. Some think the fast and strict action has been necessary. Others feel the restrictive measures have worsened an already vulnerable economic landscape and people cannot cope.
Due to years of political corruption, misappropriation of funds, and lack of funding for social services the current government knew they would not have the resources to help people if there is a big outbreak. That is why they had to contain it from day 1. However this is a country where even before the pandemic’s outbreak, 59.3% lived below the poverty line and 23% in extreme poverty. These figures are likely to rise significantly following the economic fallout of the pandemic.
"White flags on the street have become a desperate symbol for hunger"
People from the small communities can no longer travel to the bigger towns to work or even collect their food supplies. Businesses, big and small, are struggling to survive. Closing the borders and public transportation has killed off the much-needed tourism industry.
Increasingly people are seen holding white flags on the streets, which has become a desperate symbol for hunger and needing help. In a society which lacks social services and people have no savings to fall back on, the pandemic’s economic effect has grave consequences.
In response, all charities in Guatemala are focusing on emergency relief which is providing medicine, food and essential supplies to those living below the poverty line. As a Spanish language school based in the UK and Guatemala, all of us at Spanish Marks have made sure our teachers have work and can support their families. We have also been using part of our profits to support the emergency relief effort.
If you would like more information about the situation in Guatemala, you can get in touch with our co-founder of Spanish Marks, Rustom who is based in the Guatemalan city of Quetzaltenango, at email@example.com
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Based in the UK and Guatemala, we offer Spanish lessons, international volunteering placements, events and more.