LIMA – Blocks-long lines formed at bus stops, food markets and shopping centers in Peru's capital Wednesday as people left their homes en masse to go to work or shop as a 106-day coronavirus lockdown ended in many parts of the country.
For the first time in months, food vendors offered breakfasts for 50 cents from street carts covered in clear plastic in Lima's historic center. Vendors hawked face shields and disinfectants outside crowded public markets. City workers cleaned statues with jets of water.
“God always accompanies me,” said 73-year-old newspaper deliverer Segundina Lolo when asked if she feared the virus with infection rates in the country still high and scientists warning against ending three months of strict stay-at-home orders too soon.
Peru has been hit hard by the coronavirus and is still reporting 400 new confirmed cases a day. Until recently it had been following international advice on dealing with the pandemic but the measures didn't stop one of the world’s worst outbreaks.
The Andean country is also facing one of the worst econonic forecasts, with the World Bank projecting a 12% drop in GDP in 2020. The 106-day lockdown devastated Peru’s economy, causing thousands of businesses to go under and unemployment to soar. Many of the jobless and poor turned to selling goods in the street to survive despite the stay-at-home orders. An estimated 70% of Peru's work force is employed in the informal economy.
President Martin Vizcarra said the goal of easing the lockdown is to “reactivate the economy” and generate jobs. Shopping centers reopened a week ago.
Vizcarra said if the virus returns in force “the most severe measure would be to resume quarantine, but it would be the last option.”
Lockdown measures have been lifted in Lima and other parts of the country where authorities say the rate of virus transmission is decreasing. But tough measures will remain in place in seven regions in central Peru where infections are on the rise.
Health Minister Víctor Zamora told the newspaper La República the lockdown that began March 16 saved 145,000 lives and prevented more than a million hospitalizations.
"It would have been a real massacre without quarantine,” Zamora said.
With more than 285,000 confirmed infections, Peru has the seventh highest case count in the world. It has reported 9,677 deaths from COVID-19, the disease that can be caused by the coronavirus.