Corona virus update for El Salvador

As of Saturday March 14, 2020, there are still no (confirmed) cases of the novel coronavirus in El Salvador.   It should be noted that it is not clear whether El Salvador has tested anyone for the virus at this point, so the virus could be circulating without official acknowledgment.

As previously noted, on Wednesday, March 11, president Bukele issued an executive decree which prohibits the entry into El Salvador of anyone who is not a Salvadoran citizen or permanent resident, effective immediately.   Any Salvadoran or resident who returns to the country following the decree is subject to a thirty day quarantine, which does not depend on the country from which the person came or whether the person is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

The decree caught El Salvador's Roman Catholic cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez outside of the country, and as he returned he was among the persons subject to quarantine.   The mayor of the city of Santa Tecla, Roberto d'Aubuisson, was also in quarantine after attending a conference in Mexico.

The decree also suspended classes in all public and private schools and universities for 21 days at which point the suspension will be reevaluated.  Gatherings of more than 500 people were prohibited by the March 11 decree.

Movie theaters have been required to suspend screening films in the country.

A web site designed for cell phones was pushed out to users of Salvadoran cell phones, and the cell phone company TIGO announced that customers would be able to browse any of the health and civil protection websites of the government free of charge.     

Bukele's decree does not stop the arrival of Salvadorans deported by the United States. El Salvador is setting up a special quarantine facility for deportees who arrive. (El Salvador under Bukele tends to do whatever Trump asks...)

On Friday, March 13, Bukele directed the civil protection agency to raise the nationwide alert level to its highest red classification.  He also announced that 2000 troops were being sent to the country's borders to prevent persons seeking to avoid the mandatory quarantine from sneaking in.

Our border patrols together with the Sumpul Command of the Armed Forces
are guarding the 142 blind frontier points in our country.  We will not
permit any person to enter El Salvador evading sanitary controls.

Friday, Bukele sent emergency legislation to the Legislative Assembly to expand his powers to deal with the virus.  When the Legislative Assembly did not immediately act on his proposals, Bukele amped up his rhetoric and attacked the Legislative Assembly:

The deputies of the Assembly will decide now if they
are on the side of health and the life of the Salvadoran people
or are on the side of the virus and death.
The state of exception is vital to be able to contain the
entry and subsequent propagation of COVID-19

By Saturday afternoon, the Legislative Assembly had unanimously approved an emergency decree which has a duration of 30 days.   The measure gives broad powers to quarantine individuals with the virus, to limit entry to the country and transit within the country, allows the government to move funds from various accounts the health effort, and gives workers protection from termination from their jobs if they are quarantined.

In a series of tweets on Saturday afternoon, Bukele immediately proceeded to take further strong measures to forestall coronavirus in El Salvador.  Gatherings larger than 75 people were banned, bars and discos closed for 2 weeks, the CIFCO convention center is to be converted to emergency hospital with 300 ICU units and 2000 beds.

The government's actions, while strong on paper, have also been subject to criticism for their improvised implementation required when government ministries must respond immediately to a presidential tweet.   The strongest critic has been Apolonio Tobar, El Salvador's Human Rights Advocate (PDDH for the initials in Spanish).   His team has been investigating the conditions under which returning Salvadoran travelers have been quarantined since March 11.  They shared findings in a press conference today.   Tobar recently tweeted this video of his visit to the quarantine facility, where he expressed to those quarantined his concerns for the conditions under which they were being held.

Human rights advocate Apolonio Tobar visited the shelter for persons in quarantine in Jiquilisco.  They expressed their discontent with their care.  Overcrowding, mix of people who had arrived from different countries, irregular provision of food, and other complaints were expressed.

Persons in quarantine on Saturday were shown blocking the entrance to the facility to try and prevent more travelers from being added to their number and increasing those who were potentially being exposed to infection.

In contrast, government ministries were tweeting out images today of new quarantine facilities being outfitted.  Hopefully these are indications that quarantine conditions will improve going forward.

Bukele is ordering strong and decisive action to forestall what could be a major national health emergency if (when) the coronavirus takes hold ins El Salvador.   The question is still one of implementation, however.  It is one thing to order a quarantine, but it is a far different matter to implement it humanely and with consideration of other social consequences.