Publsished in El Pais, 16 March 2020
Bolivia has paralyzed the airspace, closed schools and universities as a preventive manner for ten cases of Coronavirus. Will the action be adequate in terms of cost-benefit? Similar measures have been taken in more than forty countries in the world, including a ban on events for more than one hundred people. Many countries have come to this based on the decision of the United States. In many countries where these restrictions were not taken, the main measure imposed was that each person who had cold symptoms stayed at home and avoided contact with other people who are not family members, especially not approaching the elderly or people with low immune system. These measures were dictated by the Ministry of Health for the entire population, whether they came from abroad or lived in the country. The option of being assisted in a hospital center was only indicated when symptoms worsened so as not to collapse health centers unnecessarily. Many health centers are already collapsed with daily routines with patients and creating panic would only increase attention to something that could initially be controlled from home, increasing expenses in the health system.
Data collected with this disease indicates that older adults are the most vulnerable group and children are not. Closing schools would mean that grandparents must take care of the children and they would be put at risk. The measures to avoid crowds of people by banning parties, sports activities or others of more than one hundred people were necessary to avoid sources of contagion. Other greater security measures were not necessary if people respected the previous ones.
Most countries have put measures depending on the situation for the simple reason that they have serious impacts for the economy and for society. Extreme measures cause panic and unexpected behaviors like those we have seen in La Paz and Oruro. The government is the responsible entity to keep everybody calm and issue clear measures adjusted to the geographical and social context. Calculating the degree of contagion in specific contexts and the cost-effectiveness of a measure is important and perhaps should be applied in the future for this type of situation, respecting the right of medical confidentiality for the patient.