Published in El Pais, 16 January 2021.
COVID-19 cases are increasing in Bolivia. This Thursday, January 14, more than two thousand cases (2,198 cases) have been reported. The second wave is happening. But why?
The first reason is that the first wave measures that were taken reduced the transmission of the virus and until April they were successful. Until April, the number of cases reached a level of less than 100 cases. This great result changed the strict measures for more relaxed ones and most of the people stopped respecting the measures because they believed that there were no more problems. As the transmission rate rose due to the increase in social life and its activities, COVID-19 spread again and caused more than 8,000 deaths until the end of August. Many others were infected and recovered. However, to create group immunity you need about 70% of infected people and Bolivia was probably only about 50-55% of people infected. This means that people who were not infected still have the risk of becoming infected if they do not take personal measures.
Another reason that is now being investigated are the new strains. It appears that some new strains of COVID-19 can re-infect people who have already been infected. This has been observed in Brazil. And this reinfection can still make people sick. People spread faster to other people because of the high viral load in the respiratory system. It is believed that a person infected with the English strain could infect up to 5 other people and not just 3 like the Wuhan strain of the first wave. As Bolivia is close to Brazil, it is very likely that some of the new infections are of the Brazilian strain, although it is also possible that others have already arrived.
So far, the daily death toll is quite low when compared to other countries in the world, but it could increase. It is important to continuously observe this aspect since we cannot forget the cost for people who get sick or die. The cost of not being able to work, the cost of medications, the cost of hospitalization, etc.
It is understandable that Bolivia’s strategies no longer include those of closing the economy as in other countries because mortality is very low and getting infected is not dangerous for young people. Also, easy steps can be taken to control the spread of the virus. The distance of 1.5 meters (prohibit lines, truffle taxi and small transport that does not respect the distance), wash your hands permanently, and use mouth masks.