LOCKDOWN IN LATIN AMERICA DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

It’s now day 80 since the lockdown in Argentina started.

I am now reminiscing the time when the world was still normal; when all I could think of was just traveling around Southern Latin America and acquiring the necessary visas. Just a few months ago, my worries were about the hangover from the non-stop partying in Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval, and the stressful visa runs for the Southern Latin American countries that I have planned to visit.

Carnaval at Rio de Janeiro’s Sambodromo

Who would’ve thought that the world will descend into chaos and all our plans will be shattered? Never in my life had I imagined that the world will stop and that I will be trapped in some faraway country all on my own.



PRE CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN IN LATIN AMERICA


I was in Brazil when the first case of the novel virus hit Latin America. Carnaval had just officially ended when they announced that there was a case in Sao Paulo, and honestly, I didn’t even pay attention to it. After all, I was thinking that it was an isolated incident and it won’t spread, plus at that time, I was thinking that it was just similar to mild flu. However, once other countries reported their case, that’s when the tension rose. People became scared, and I as an Asian tourist received some nasty remarks from some locals. Some of them were calling me “coronavirus” on the streets. Paraguayan authorities even almost didn’t let me enter their country for being Asian – good thing I can speak Spanish and I explained that I’ve been traveling in the region for a year now. In the end, they let me in, but not after interrogating me for almost 10 minutes.

Sadly, we can only look at the Jesuit Mission Ruins from afar

I was already on my 5th day into my Paraguay trip when the situation started to get worse. The Paraguayan government started to close some establishments (tourist spots, gyms, schools, malls), and sadly, they also closed the Jesuit Mission Ruins in Encarnacion (the only UNESCO site of Paraguay) when we arrived. To make matters worse, Paraguay and Argentina announced that they will close their borders, so I had to make a quick decision; either stay in Paraguay or rush to the border and try to cross Argentina.

Truth be told, I’d rather be stuck there than in Paraguay due to the following reasons:

  • There is a Philippine embassy in Buenos Aires, so I felt that they can help me if ever things go south.
  • The healthcare system of Argentina is way better than Paraguay, so if I get sick, then I know I will be in good hands.
  • Paraguay may be cheaper, but staying in Argentina will also be economical due to its ever-fluctuating black market exchange rate.
  • Paraguay’s weather is extremely hot, almost unbearable in the afternoon.
  • I already visited most of Paraguay’s important sites, so there was no reason for me to stay.

So I, along with some hostel mates boarded the bus to the border crossing to Posadas the next day. Good thing they didn’t cancel my E-visa, like what other countries did. They just asked some questions about my previous travels, and in the end, they stamped my passport and let me in. What a relief!

The gang successfully crossed the border from Encarnacion, Paraguay to Posadas, Argentina

We then went to the bus station to look for a bus that goes to Buenos Aires on the same day. Some of my hostel mates decided to go to Salta while two more decided to go to Buenos Aires with me. We managed to find the last tickets sold for the day that will leave at 19:00. After that, we parted ways with the rest and went on our merry ways.


LOCKDOWN IN BUENOS AIRES


We arrived in Buenos Aires the next day after traveling for almost 14 hours, and by that time, we were already feeling the uneasy and tense atmosphere in the city. The government issued a decree of mandatory self-isolation for everyone coming from countries with overwhelming cases of Coronavirus (South Korea, China, Iran, and all of Europe) for the last 14 days. Because of that, tourists who just arrived from Europe were either forced to buy a return flight to their respective countries or endure the self-isolation.

I thought I was spared since I arrived from Latin American countries before arriving here. However, the government included Brazil to the list two days after, and the president also issued a lockdown for the whole country which was supposed to last until the 31st of March.

Surviving at the little food we had during the imposed isolation

Some people from the government arrived in the hostel and listed everyone who should be isolated. Since I was in Brazil before Paraguay, then I also had to quarantine, but only for five days, as they counted my stay in Paraguay as part of the isolation.

Those five days sucked. I got stuck with two other travelers in a shared room and we did everything we can to survive during the isolation; we created a makeshift clothesline inside the room to hang our clothes and did our laundry on the sink, then we also asked people who can freely go outside to buy food and to refill our water bottles. We also made sure to at least have a form of exercise to keep us healthy and sane. When my quarantine ended, I became the runner for the people still in isolation, making sure that they make it till they finish their time.

The first of the numerous quarantine extensions by President Alberto Fernandez

I then decided to move to an apartment because it would be foolish to spend the lockdown in a shared room, especially after hearing horror stories where the authorities quarantined everyone staying in the hostel after someone got infected. I found a place in Airbnb and transferred there a few days after the travel restrictions within the city eased up a bit.


LIFE DURING ARGENTINA’S CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN


80 days. Who would’ve thought that it would last this long! I am still in the place I rented after I left the hostel. It is a private room in an apartment and I share the common area with 4 French students. I opted for this arrangement so that I would still have someone to talk to, and not live like a hermit in this tough time.

As for the Coronavirus situation here, the WHO declared Latin America as the new virus epicenter, with Brazil leading the case count, followed by Peru, Chile, Mexico, and Ecuador respectively. It was crazy, because when I left Brazil, there was only one confirmed case, and now they are nearing 400,000 after just a short amount of time!

Me with my housemates

Argentina is winning the war against the epidemic but has not flattened the curve yet while other provinces reported no recent virus transmission, the cases in Buenos Aires (both the CABA and AMBA regions) swelled, unfortunately. Because of that, the president decided to extend the quarantine for the nth time and concentrated their efforts on the favelas in the capital.

The quarantine here is not as harsh though; we can go out to buy food and essential stuff at the groceries or pharmacies. Children can go outside if accompanied by an adult during weekends. And the most important of all – there is no liquor ban!

I also registered myself under the Philippine Embassy here in Argentina, so that at least someone can help me in case I need assistance. The consul, Sir Jason Anasarias gave me his contact details and has been keeping me up to date with the latest news regarding the situation in the country. Kudos to you sir!

Holed up in my private room for 80 days now

So, with that, it seems that we will have to endure at least another month of lockdown. Anyway, I am just thankful that I and my loved ones are safe. I still stand with my decision to stay here and not go home, as I still want to continue my quest to see the rest of Latin America once this issue simmers down. For now, there is nothing to do but wait and follow the government imposed rules, keep myself healthy, and pray to God that this nightmare will be over soon.

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