Venezuela to ease Covid-19 restrictions despite high rate of infection

Caracas, Oct 23 (EFE).- The Venezuelan government plans to roll back many pandemic restrictions for November and December even though the daily increase in Covid-19 cases is nearly triple the level of a year ago.

Shops will be allowed to operate freely for the final two months of the year in the interest of the “security, health and happiness of economic growth,” President Nicolas Maduro said recently.

The liberalization signifies the suspension, if not end, of the 7+7 system of alternating weeks of partial opening and lockdown. Strict enforcement of that regime effectively ended months ago.

The easing of restrictions is to begin Oct. 28, which also marks the official start of campaigning for the nationwide state and local elections on Nov. 21.

Judging from the experience of the December 2020 congressional elections, it seems unlikely that measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 will be followed at campaign events.

In fact, public health experts are warning that another election season, followed by the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, will lead to a third wave of coronavirus in Venezuela.

Nearly 399,000 Venezuelans have been infected with Covid-19, which has claimed 4,790 lives in the oil-rich Andean nation.

A year ago, the average number of new cases detected every day was only around a third of what it is now, yet the 2020 election and subsequent one-month re-opening for the holidays generated a massive spike early this year.

Maduro spoke three weeks ago about a “possible third wave,” acknowledging that infections were on the rise in Caracas and the states of Miranda, La Guaira and Carabobo.

The highest one-day increase since the start of the pandemic came on Oct. 7, when authorities reported 1,638 new cases. The daily average has retreated to 1,232 since then.

Specialists consulted by Efe say that the recent surge reflects the impact of the more contagious Delta variant of Covid-19, first detected in Venezuela in late July.

“There is an escalating tendency in the number of cases between the year 2020 and the year 2021, and the lulls between peaks and ever more elevated. That indicated that the pandemic is not controlled in Venezuela,” Dr. Jose Felix Oletta said.

Nearly 71 percent of all confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country correspond to the period from Jan. 1, 2021, to the present day.

Flor Pujol, head of the Laboratory of Molecular Virology at the Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientificas, told Efe that the different characteristics of the Delta variant must be borne in mind when comparing the current case numbers with those of a year ago.

The keys to bringing the pandemic under control are vaccination and “maintaining and redoubling protection measures,” she said, though the prospects for the latter are not very promising with an election campaign and Christmas ahead. EFE gc-sb/dr

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