PORT-AU-PRINCE – A year into the coronavirus pandemic, it is impossible to get away from the constant inflow of information about COVID-19 and the virus is in everyone’s thoughts almost constantly, but if someone really wants to forget about the whole thing, they can go to Haiti.
To start with, the incidence of the disease is very low in the impoverished Caribbean nation and since the start of the pandemic there have been “only” 12,274 confirmed coronavirus cases and 247 deaths, a lethality of 2.01 percent, according to the latest official figures.
The 11 million people living in Haiti have been living their lives for months almost as if COVID-19 did not exist.
Since the government decreed the reopening of the country late last June, after a three-month lockdown, the disease has not really affected most Haitians’ routines, and they go about without wearing facemasks or avoiding gathering in public.
A sign of all this is at the Petion Ville market in the capital, where those who wear facemasks are few and far between despite the close contact among the local populace, pedestrians, drivers, vendors and shoppers.
The low incidence of COVID-19 here could be a fruitful research opportunity for the scientific community, although disease expert Jean William Pape, the co-president of the multisector COVID-19 management commission in Haiti, said that the explanation is that “probably the majority of people have already been infected” and thus “are protected.”
As a result, he told EFE, “the cases are not rising exponentially,” and he ruled out a second wave of the virus, although he did say that recently “there has been an increase in cases” arising from people who have traveled abroad.
“Without a doubt, there is also community spread. But what we’ve seen most is people who have the chance to travel and who have children who have returned to Haiti from the United States and Europe. They are the people belonging to the more well-off class” and they evidently did not take rigorous precautions when they were abroad.
The United Nations office in Haiti emphasized in its most recent report that the impact of the pandemic on the Haitian population continues to be less than initially expected.
Nevertheless, the report emphasized that this is not preventing the pandemic from having a harsh impact on the world economy and, in turn, worsening the already desperate socio-economic and humanitarian situation in Haiti.
On the other hand, detecting the virus among the local populace does not seem to be a priority, and this particularly evident at the free health clinics where coronavirus testing is carried out but barely anybody came in to get health care there on several days last week due to the Carnival celebration, as noted by EFE in visiting one of the centers.
In fact, Carnival was celebrated boisterously in Haiti just like normal and several cities around the country enjoyed the rare privilege this year of organizing some of the largest such celebrations in the world.
While Rio de Janeiro, Venice or the Canary Islands closed their doors to the Carnival revelry, in Haitian cities like Jacmel and Port-au-Prince the festivities were ebullient, with huge throngs of people – including President Jovenel Moïse – dancing cheek by jowl in the streets.
The other big reason why one doesn’t hear much at all about COVID-19 in the capital is the serious political and security crisis the country is experiencing, a situation aggravated on Feb. 7 by the government’s denunciation of the opposition for allegedly attempting to organize a coup d’etat.
Given that attitude, and with the opposition devoted to promoting demonstrations, the streets of Port-au-Prince have seen daily protests to demand that President Moïse resign, demonstrations which sometimes draw thousands of people and turn violent.
The question of violence, which also diverts attention from the health issue, also includes the huge number of kidnappings in Haiti.
According to estimates by the National Human Rights Defense Network, currently there are more than five kidnappings each day, on average, as per what the organization’s director, Mary Rosy August Ducena, told EFE and this worrying situation is pushing COVID-19 from the minds of most people.