28 de septiembre de 2020
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Peru starting to beat COVID-19 after 700K cases, 30K deaths

By Alvaro Mellizo

Lima, Sep 8 (efe-epa).- Peru seems to have started to get a handle on managing the coronavirus pandemic, despite a total of 700,000 confirmed cases and 30,000 deaths as of Tuesday, and the country is showing positive signs that the disease is being mitigated as Chinese laboratory Sinopharm's vaccine is on the verge of getting started with clinical trials.

Although Peru has been the country with the world's highest rate of Covid-19 deaths, for the past three weeks, the numbers of infections and deaths appear to have generally declined and considerably fewer patients are being hospitalized for the disease.

These figures, which authorities are viewing with a mixture of caution and optimism, describe a bending of the curve within the second wave of infections, which had skyrocketed with the reopening of the economy and the end of the general quarantine in July, and now the curve clearly appears to be falling.

One of the things that provides the most hope is the fact that the rate of recoveries from the disease for almost the past two weeks has been greater than the number of newly detected cases.

Last week, the 27th week since the start of the pandemic, authorities announced that 42,811 positive cases had been detected but 59,582 people who had been sick were declared to have recovered.

Also, and very significantly, the number of people admitted to hospitals for treatment of complications resulting from Covid-19 seems to have peaked at 14,181 on Aug. 17 but had declined to 11,242 by Sept. 7.

Mortality from the disease is also falling significantly and sharply, especially over the past few days.

Peru's Sinadef, the agency which tabulates the excess deaths for any reason in the country compared with the average in earlier years, says that the disparity in daily deaths that has been seen during the pandemic - almost six times the average number of deaths during "normal" times - has been substantially reduced and deaths are now trending back toward more normal levels.

According to calculations prepared by analyst and mathematician Marco Loret de Mola, one of Peru's top experts on the evolution of the pandemic, the trend points to the possibility that by the end of September mortality should be back to its historic average.

What is also undeniable is the extremely high prevalence of the virus among the population, a fact that motivated the government to prepare a general study that found that some "7 million people" could "easily" have been infected nationwide.

That is what the deputy minister of Public Health, Luis Suarez, said on Monday in a statement in which he added that it is known that the virus has infected some 25 percent of the 10 million people living in Lima and Callao, cities where about one-third of Peru's population is concentrated.

Estimates made in earlier weeks on the basis of real data, but which were not part of a systematic and comparable study, pointed to the fact that some 38 percent of Peru's population of 32.6 million could have been infected, with some parts of the country having been much more exposed than others.

These figures are also the result of more data coming in from the rural parts of the country, an effort that Peruvian authorities have pushed under the name of "Operation Tayta" (which means "father" in the Quechua language) whereby specially trained health personnel went door to door testing people, detecting Covid-19 cases and treating those infected and the vulnerable groups in society, such as the elderly, early in the disease cycle.

The figures led President Martin Vizcarra to state last Sunday that the disease is "in its final phase," albeit adding that it will not disappear "tomorrow or the day after tomorrow," but rather will need to be slowly eradicated over the course of a number of months.

"We have to continue working like at the beginning. We're in the phase where it's begun to diminish ... (but) it can take months until the vaccine arrives," he warned.

One of the biggest problems in Peru in controlling the disease has been the fact that the public has only been adhering to the minimum social distancing rules, a situation that led Suarez to note that "75 percent of the population still remains susceptible" to becoming infected.

On Tuesday, the 200th anniversary of the disembarkation of Argentine Gen. Jose de San Martin on the Peruvian coasts and a turning point in the process of independence in Peru, Vizcarra called on the public to continue "working together" to defeat the disease.

The official message is that until the public becomes vaccinated, there will be no return to normality, and thus there has been considerable attention paid to the start of the first massive clinical trials of a vaccine on Peruvian territory.

On Thursday, it is expected that some 6,000 volunteers will begin to be vaccinated in a study being carried out by China's Sinopharm laboratory, a program being conducted in Peru under the aegis of the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia and the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos.

Last week, a team of Chinese scientists arrived in Peru with the vaccine, which consists of inactive coronavirus that will be injected into the volunteers to follow how well it creates antibodies and immunity.

In Peru, two different strains of the inactivated SARS-CoV-2 virus will be tested and plans are to give 2,000 volunteers the Wuhan strain, another 2,000 the Beijing strain while the third group of 2,000 will receive a placebo.

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