At least 20 journalists have died from the coronavirus outbreak in Peru, most of them infected while reporting on the pandemic, often with little protection, the country’s journalists’ union reported Tuesday.
Peru is Latin America’s second worst-hit country after Brazil with more than 170,000 cases and 4,600 deaths.
“As of June 1, the number of dead colleagues is 20 in all of the country,” said Zuliana Lainez of the National Association of Journalists.
Many of them contracted the disease while reporting from streets, markets and hospitals on the effects of the virus, without proper protective equipment, Lainez said.
“They have gone to hospitals, which are foci of infection, with homemade masks,” she said.
Seven of the victims were from Loreto, in the Amazon basin, one of Peru’s worst affected areas.
A large proportion of journalists who fell victim to the virus were freelancers, with none of the protections afforded to company employees.
“Journalists dying from COVID-19 confirms the urgency of addressing health protection and job insecurity,” the union said.
Peru on Sunday reported 8,800 new COVID-19 infections, setting a new daily record for a country that already has the second highest number of novel coronavirus cases in Latin America after Brazil.
The death toll is now at 4,506, the third highest in the region — itself the new hotspot of the deadly disease — after Brazil and Mexico, with President Martin Vizcarra warning the country is only halfway through the crisis.
Infections have jumped in Peru despite a months-long mandatory lockdown and a nightime curfew and the government ordering international borders to be closed.
The spike is concentrated around the capital Lima, where one third of the population lives, and put tremendous strain on Peru’s economy and healthcare system.
Four out of every ten Peruvians lost their source of income when the lockdown began, according to one study, and last week Peru secured a two-year, $11 billion credit line from the International Monetary Fund.
– ‘Tremendous challenge’ in Chile –
Neighboring Chile on Sunday reported 57 more fatalities in the past 24 hours, a new record that brings the country’s COVID-19 death toll to 1,054.
“We are facing the largest pandemic of the past 100 years,” said Deputy Health Minister Paula Daza, as she announced the latest figures.
Seventeen police officers in Peru have died after contracting novel coronavirus while enforcing the nation’s pandemic lockdown, officials and state media said.
Authorities admitted earlier this week that at least 1,300 officers had been infected by COVID-19.
On Saturday new interior minister Gaston Rodriguez, who was sworn in a day earlier after the sudden resignation of his predecessor when the infections tally emerged, said: “We have 17 deceased police officers nationwide, 11 of them in Lima.”
The high number is linked to “the exposure that police officers have when intervening with people who violate the measures issued to contain the spread of the coronavirus,” state news agency Andina said Saturday.
Peru has been on lockdown since March 16.
Rodriguez said his department had allocated 50 million soles ($15 million) “for the purchase of protection elements such as masks and gloves” for Peru’s police.
Chile and Peru announced a total closure of their borders on Monday while Latin America’s largest airline said it was reducing operations by 70 percent as the region scrambled to stem the rapidly-spreading coronavirus pandemic.
Latin America has registered more than 800 cases and seven deaths, according to an AFP count, after the Dominican Republic became the latest nation to report a fatality.
“We’ve decided to close all our country’s terrestrial, maritime and aerial borders for the transit of foreigners,” said Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera.
The announcement came as Chile revealed on Monday its number of coronavirus cases had more than doubled since Sunday to 155.
Peru followed suit soon afterwards with President Martin Vizcarra announcing a two-week border closure from midnight, while Colombia announced it would close its borders until May 30.
Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay confirmed partial border closures. Paraguay also imposed overnight curfews.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced late Monday that his country would enter “collective quarantine.”
Latam Airlines said it was reducing operations by 70 percent, just four days after already cutting back by 30 percent.
“If these unprecedented travel restrictions increase… we’re not ruling out being forced to decrease our operations even more,” said the airline’s vice-president Roberto Alvo.
Peru’s vice president resigned and called for elections Tuesday, hours after parliament appointed her to lead the fight against the president’s dissolution of the body amid a bitter deadlock over corruption and appointments to the Supreme Court.
“I have decided to resign irrevocably from the position of Second Constitutional Vice President of the Republic,” Mercedes Araoz wrote on Twitter alongside a resignation letter, adding she hoped for “general elections in the shortest term.”
Lawmakers had accused President Martin Vizcarra of a “coup d’etat” after he dissolved the opposition-dominated Congress and called for fresh elections Monday, voting to suspend him temporarily from the presidency and appointing Araoz as leader.
But thousands poured into the streets of Lima and other cities in a show of support for Vizcarra — whose anti-graft drive is widely popular — with the armed forces and police confirming their backing of the president and a dozen regional governors joining celebratory street protests.
“There’s too much corruption. Too much of it without any shame. It’s high time this happened, that there’s a change,” said protester Jenny Sanchez in Lima, as demonstrators waved flags saying “New Peru.”
The resignation of Araoz — who had allied with supporters of corruption-tainted former opposition leader Keiko Fujimori — comes after the Organization of American States (OAS) refused to get involved in the Peru power dispute.
The body said Tuesday that it was up to Peru’s Constitutional Court to decide on the legality of the dissolution, and that it was “fair that the political polarization in the country will be resolved by the people at the polls.”
A number of lawmakers were considering appealing to the court to revoke the dissolution, according to Congress speaker Pedro Olaechea.
Despite the heated stand-off, Peru went about its business as usual on Tuesday, with the only noticeable change being heightened security around the government palace and Congress.
Vizcarra’s call for fresh polls on January 26 was validated Tuesday by the independent National Jury of Elections.
The upcoming polls will likely favor leftist parties like Nuevo Peru and Frente Amplio, which supported the dissolution, political analyst Fernando Rospigliosi told AFP.
Under an electoral reform enacted last year, lawmakers cannot run for re-election. A new Congress would only have a mandate until 2021, to complete the five-year period for which the dissolved Congress was elected.
Until the elections, legislative duties will fall to a 27-member Permanent Congressional Commission, 18 of whom are opposition lawmakers, led by Congress speaker Pedro Olaechea, who accuses Vizcarra of unlawfully seizing power.
Vizcarra has repeatedly clashed with Congress, which is dominated by the Popular Force party of Keiko Fujimori.
He had warned Congress on Sunday that he would dissolve the body if it denied him a vote of confidence Monday on reforming the method of appointing magistrates. The move was aimed at preventing the opposition from taking control of the Supreme Court.
Peru’s grinding political stand-off has its roots in the 2016 presidential election, when banker Pedro Pablo Kuczynski beat Keiko Fujimori.
Although she lost her bid for the presidency, her party won an overwhelming majority in Congress, eventually forcing Kuczynski’s resignation last year amid a corruption scandal.
Kuczynski was replaced by Vizcarra, then first vice president, who has vowed to clean up Peruvian politics.
Fujimori is the eldest daughter of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori and is herself in prison awaiting trial after being accused of accepting $1.2 million in illicit party funding from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht for her 2011 presidential campaign.
The Supreme Court is currently debating whether to free Keiko — once Peru’s most popular politician — from pre-trial detention.
Odebrecht has admitted paying at least $29 million in bribes to Peruvian officials since 2004.
Three former presidents, including Kuczynski, are also being investigated over Odebrecht, while a fourth, Alan Garcia, committed suicide in April after police arrived at his house to arrest him for money laundering.
Brazil coach Tite told Lionel Messi to show some respect following claims from the Argentina captain that the Copa America had been “fixed” so the hosts would win.
Brazil clinched the Copa by defeating Peru 3-1 at the Maracana on Sunday but Tite felt that his side had been hard done by in some refereeing decisions and said Messi’s words had weighed on the officials.
“He has to show some respect, he must understand and accept when he’s defeated,” said Tite, whose side beat Argentina 2-0 in a controversial semi-final.
“We’ve been affected in many matches, even in the World Cup, so be very careful.
“He put a lot of pressure on because of how great a player he is.
“Everyone has their own problems and you have to be respectful.”
Messi had hit out at South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL, accusing them of “corruption” after he was sent off in Saturday’s third-place play-off in which Argentina beat Chile 2-1.
He’d also claimed after Argentina’s semi-final defeat that the tournament hosts were “managing a lot in CONMEBOL these days.”
Argentina had been angered that VAR wasn’t used on two occasions to check the validity of their claims for a penalty that hadn’t been seen by the referee.
Messi was then harshly sent off against Chile following a tangle with Gary Medel in which he seemed to do nothing wrong.
The Barcelona star claimed afterwards he had paid for his previous criticisms.
“My words had repercussions, but you must always be sincere,” he said.
Tite agreed with that, claiming that Peru’s penalty in the final — converted by their captain Paolo Guerrero — should never have been given.
“Today it wasn’t a penalty. You have to be careful and show respect, as we respect others,” said Tite.
Peru coach Ricardo Gareca, who is Argentine, agreed with the his Brazil counterpart.
“Messi is a voice of authority but that doesn’t mean I agree with what he said,” Gareca added.
Brazil midfielder Casemiro refused to be drawn on the Messi controversy, though.
“They can say what they want, we only talk about Brazil,” said the Real Madrid player.
As Brazil celebrated and posed for photos with their trophy, they were joined by the country’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, a deeply divisive figure who has been accused of making racist, sexist and homophobic comments.
As he huddled with the players, some of them chanted “Legend,” as his supporters do.
His reception from the crowd was more mixed, though, with jeers audible above many cheering fans.
Asked about the message conveyed by his team celebrating with Bolsonaro, Tite sidestepped it.
“I’m so involved with football, I know things happen, but the way I’ve been brought up is that my focus is my essence,” he said.
Ten-man Brazil held on to win the Copa America on home soil despite Gabriel Jesus’s dismissal with a 3-1 victory over Peru on Sunday.
Jesus scored the decisive goal after a penalty from Peru captain Paolo Guerrero canceled out Everton’s opener for hosts Brazil at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium.
A last minute penalty from substitute Richarlison sealed a win for Brazil which handed the South American giants their ninth Copa triumph and first since 2007.
Jesus’s evening went sour 20 minutes from time as he was sent off for a second booking.
The Manchester City striker was in tears as he left the field, making obscene hand gestures, angrily kicking a water bottle and almost knocking over the trophy plinth.
Brazil’s players rallied after the dismissal however to claim a battling victory.
Earlier, after a minute’s silence was held for bossa nova legend Joao Gilberto — who died on Saturday — underdogs Peru made a confident start and didn’t appear overawed by either their opponents or the occasion.
But it quickly became apparent that they were up against more accomplished players.
Peru coach Ricardo Gareca had said on Saturday they needed to prevent Brazil from dominating possession, but that was easier said than done.
Brazil started to stroke the ball around commandingly, and as they did that, they looked dangerous.
Their opening goal came from a piece of individual brilliance by Jesus, whose drag back fooled two defenders, creating space for him to cross for the unmarked Everton to drill home at the back post on the quarter hour.
Brazil were in control and playing like champions elect as Roberto Firmino found space on the left and crossed for Philippe Coutinho to stab wide.
Left-winger Everton was clever with his movement in dragging the athletic right-back Luis Advincula out of position and Brazil’s left-back Alex Sandro found acres of space to put in a deep cross that Firmino headed over.
Just as it looked as if Brazil would stroll to victory, Peru went on the attack and a Christian Cueva cross hit the arm of a sliding Thiago Silva, giving Peru a penalty that was confirmed after a VAR review.
Guerrero sent goalkeeper Alisson the wrong way from 12 yards and Peru were back in it just before half-time.
But they paid for their lack of guile and experience with almost the last kick of the half as Arthur was allowed to drive at the defence from midfield following a slip from Renato Tapia that left him space to attack.
Center-back Carlos Zambano also slipped, allowing Arthur to feed Jesus in the middle of the area and the Manchester City striker made no mistake, finding the bottom corner.
Brazil had a few speculative shots at the start of the second half but Silva, Dani Alves and Coutinho all failed to hit the target.
After some wing trickery from Everton, Alex Sandro crossed but Firmino headed wide.
Brazil were in complete control at this stage as Peru could hardly string two passes together.
But the dynamic changed 20 minutes from time as Jesus was given his marching orders for a second yellow card after a late challenge on Cueva.
The onus was now on Peru to attack and Miguel Trauco brought a near post save out of Alisson while Edison Flores fizzed a volley from outside the area just wide.
But amidst a flurry of substitutions, fouls and injury stoppages, the steam went out of Peru’s efforts and they were unable to exert any sustained pressure on the hosts.
Any hopes they had were extinguished when Zambrano was adjudged to have barged over Everton in the penalty area and substitute Richarlison drilled home the spot-kick into the bottom corner.