By Shivika Singh | Contributor
In anger over the government’s handling of COVID-19, protesters have taken to the streets in Paraguay.
The protestors expressed their frustration over the collapse of the healthcare system in the country, with some turning to violence.
President Mario Abdo Benitez faces calls for resignation, with activists accusing the right-wing government of failing to effectively deal with the crisis.
The crucial care units in hospitals are filled up, with doctors runing out of basic drugs amid a spike in coronavirus cases. The government is also accused of widespread corruption.
Lawmakers and opposition figures have called for Abdo to be impeached, though at present he appears to have enough support to remain in office.
Heathcare workers and relatives of COVID-19 patients, along with thousands of other protestors, took to the streets in the capital, Asuncion, and other cities to protest.
The government has been accused of misusing millions of guaraníes, which could have been used to curb the health emergency.
The protests turned violent in the capital as some of the protestors clashed with the police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Shops were ransacked, cars were put on fire and roads blockaded following the clash between the police and protestors. One person died while 20 were reported injured.
Abdo called on his cabinet to resign following demonstrations and wide scale public outrage. Briefing on the issue, Communications Minister Juan Manuel Brunetti told the journalists: “He has asked all the members to give up their positions”.
A reshuffle of the cabinet was later announced, with three members – the ministers for education, women’s affairs and civil affairs – losing their jobs.
The move was an attempt to calm the public outrage, however the calls for his resignation continued to echo.
Announcing the reappointment of new ministers, President Abdo said, “I am sure that men and women named will do their utmost to confront this moment of crisis that the country is enduring”.
A day earlier, Health Minister Julio Mazzoleni resigned after fierce criticism from lawmakers and Health Service Unions.
COVID-19 infections have surged in Paraguay in recent weeks. The WHO’s data suggests that from January 3 2020 to March 10 2021, there have been 169,860 confirmed cases, with 3,343 deaths.
COVID-19 cases are soaring, while the response from the government has been slow. As of March 2021, only a total of 1,725 vaccine doses have been administered. This is just 0.1 percent of Paraguay’s population.
During the beginning of the pandemic, Paraguay was able to keep the infection rates low, despite the neighbouring countries like Brazil and Argentina facing huge outbreaks. This was possible as a strict lockdown was imposed in early months of the coronavirus outbreak and national borders were sealed. However, COVID-19 cases have jumped since September as activities resumed and a new record number of infection cases was soon reached.
According to lawmaker Efrain Alegre, head of the Liberal Party, “Paraguayans have already paid for drugs and vaccines that aren’t here. It is not the fault of the Paraguayan people – it’s a serious corruption problem”.
The outcry began when medical professionals held a protest in the capital city to call attention to the scarcity of basic medical supplies. The health care workers mentioned that they had run out of drugs for chemotherapy treatment and sedatives for patients who need to be intubated.
The health ministers of three other countries in South America – Argentina, Ecuador and Peru – have stepped down in recent weeks amid scandals and outrage over mishandling of COVID-19 crisis, and other leaders in the region have been criticised for their response to the pandemic.
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