Costa Rica pushes back coronavirus, reducing current cases

For the past week, the country has reported a steady decline in the number of people infected with the virus

epa08388225 People with refugee status and low economic resources receive food and assistance from the organization 'Nicaraguan Coalition in Exile', in San Jose, Costa Rica, 27 April 2020.  EPA/Jeffrey Arguedas

While parts of Latin America enter the toughest phase of the coronavirus pandemic, Costa Rica has for the past week reported a steady decline in the number of people infected with the virus – a sign its approach to the crisis may be paying off.

On March 6, Costa Rica became the first country in Central America to register a coronavirus infection.

But the country has now gone three days without reporting a fatality related to Covid-19. Last Thursday was the seventh day in succession in which the number of active cases went down.

The country has likely benefited from the population observing government measures to fight the virus, health experts said.

"The people have understood the historic moment that we're in," Health Minister Daniel Salas said.

"We've had a slight reduction [in active cases] but we'll have to proceed very carefully because most people haven't been infected."

Coronavirus across the world

In the past week, 45 new cases were reported in Costa Rica, with 122 people recovering, reducing the number of active cases from 564 to 485, the ministry said.

Costa Rica has not resorted to the sort of strict curfews adopted by some countries in Central America, but officials closed the country to foreigners on May 15 and stepped up border surveillance, suspending mass events and limiting road traffic.

It was too early to say for sure, but Costa Rica also appeared to have had some success in tracking infections, Maria Luisa Avila, a former health minister, said.

The country is one of the most affluent and stable in the region and has a free public healthcare system.

According to a Google report based on mobile phone statistics, visits to shops and recreational premises have dropped 84 per cent.

The number of people visiting parks and beaches also dropped 82 per cent – figures that are similar to Peru, where the number of cases are increasing rapidly despite authorities imposing a night-time curfew.

Costa Rica, a country with a population of about 5 million, has reported about 730 coronavirus cases and six deaths, 49 days after authorities registered the first patient, a US tourist.

By contrast, its southern neighbour Panama, an important transport hub with a slightly smaller population, has registered more than 7,000 cases and almost 200 deaths.

Costa Rica's reported fatality rate of 0.12 per 100,000 population is one of the lowest in the Americas. It is slightly higher than the rate in Guatemala and El Salvador, which quickly imposed lockdowns.

Mexico has entered the highest phase of alert in the crisis, as the death toll passed 2,000 and the number of cases topped 20,000.