It is now a little over two months since Costa Rica published its first report on the Corona crises. At that point in time (11th of March) there were 22 reported cases of infected people. Today, there are 863 of which, only 288 are active cases. This country of 5 million inhabitants has suffered only 10 deaths.
While the world talks about Sweden as an example of the management of the pandemic, it is worth a while to look at how a not-so-wealthy country has been able to achieve such remarkable results in the management of the Corona.
From my perspective, the outstanding success of Costa Rica in managing this crisis is based on a series of factors related to government policy as well as their culture:
1. Lives first, the economy second
Barely a week after the government published the first report with the 22 cases, the borders were closed. The last international flights left the country the week after. Only Costa Rican citizens and residents were allowed to come in.
This is remarkable for one very important reason: Costa Rica is a middle-income country whose economy depends to a larger extent on tourism. Yet, they did not hesitate to take measures that they knew were going to have catastrophic consequences for the economy. They put lives and particularly the lives of the Ticos and those legally living in the country first.
2. Clear information
Since the 11th of March, the Health Ministry publishes a daily report with the total number of cases, the number of active cases, the recovered, the death, and the number of tests that had been taken to that date.
They also publish a daily map with the number of cases per cantón (a smaller scale than a province). This is done every day at the same time. The Ministry of Health also comes live on TV to give the report.
All the restrictions to activities are announced also on the same page regularly.
Accessing the website of the Ministry of Health is also for free- meaning that the mobile operating companies will not charge for the internet connection to access that page. By using the internet + TV, the government has tried to make sure that everyone is informed.
From day one, a red threat in the messages of the Minister of Health was to appeal to the population’s sense of responsibility. He reiterated that the health system of Costa Rica was good but that there was limited capacity to attend those infected.
Therefore, they constantly ask the population to be responsible: to work from home when possible, to stay at home if they felt some symptoms, to respect the social distance, to respect the prohibitions to go to the beach and other public places, etc. Else, it has always been possible to go for walks, to go to banks, the supermarket, pharmacies, and many shops (hardware shops, for example). All in all, home confinement has been recommended but not forced. The same thing with masks.
And to my surprise, it worked. The first day that we walked towards the beach I was totally convinced that we would find people swimming. I was totally wrong. There was nobody.
Of course, there have been some problems with people not respecting the prohibitions. But those have been the exception, rather than the rule. My perception is that people were concerned about the risks of this pandemic and stuck to the rules.
Yet, one of the most remarkable things that I have witnessed on how Costa Rica has approached the crisis is an incredible sense of solidarity. As I said before, Costa Rica basically closed its main source of income: tourism. National Parks and beaches were closed. Borders were closed. International flights canceled. Hotels and restaurants were closed, bookings canceled, tour operators closed as well. Many workers were fired. People suddenly found themselves without any income…
To address this situation the Government offered financial support to those affected. Tourism companies received support and so did those with none or very low income. Some of the larger companies in the country donated food for those most affected. A food bank was created and, as of Saturday, we saw the supermarket putting together a bag with basic products that will be distributed among the poorest in the population.
Furthermore, the government made sure that basic services like water or electricity will not be cut even if the family could not pay the bill. Something similar happened with the rent, to make sure that nobody was evicted from their houses if it was proved that they couldn’t pay the rent.
5. In sum…
The strategy seems to have worked well. In the municipality where we are living, only two Corona cases have been detected. The last one this weekend.
The number of cases in the country is 0,17 for 1000 inhabitants. The active cases 0,05 for 1000. Only 10 deceased and barely 17 in hospitals and only 3 in the intensive care units.
All in all, a remarkable achievement and something that they should be very proud of. As I am sure they are!