RIO DE JANEIRO — For a time, early in the pandemic, when Latin America was mostly a spectator watching outbreaks in China, then Europe, then the United States, there was hope that when the coronavirus arrived here, things would be different. The climate was warmer. The people were younger. The governments had more time to study the mistakes made elsewhere, and to prepare.
Weeks later, more than a million people have been infected, tens of thousands are dead, and those hopes are gone. The warmer weather did little to slow the disease as it devastated tropical metropolises in Ecuador and Brazil. Youth has not protected Mexico or Peru. And despite early and aggressive government action in many cases, Latin America has been unable to avert what now appears to have always been inevitable.
The disease has been a disaster in Brazil, now second only to the United States in reported cases, with more than 31,000 dead, but it’s not the only country in the region in the full grip of the coronavirus. Peru has now confirmed twice as many infections as China. Mexico has suffered more than 10,000 deaths. Officials in Chile, now in the throes of one of the world’s most explosive outbreaks, warn that the hospital system in Santiago is teetering at capacity. The World Health Organization has declared Latin America the new epicenter of the global pandemic.