Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro ordered a “social quarantine” on Monday affecting six states and the capital Caracas to try to contain the spread of Chinese coronavirus.
The virus, confirmed to have entered Venezuela last week, risks causing huge damage across a country that has previously been described as in the midst of a “health holocaust.”
Authorities have so far confirmed 17 cases of the virus and no fatalities. The dire state of the socialist country’s “universal healthcare system” has raised serious concern among health experts that this pandemic could wipe out an excessively high number of people.
One of those most concerned appears to Maduro himself, who in a strange moment of vulnerability appeared to admit that the virus could wreak unprecedented chaos and heartbreak on a country that is already experiencing one of the world’s most severe economic, humanitarian, and migratory crises.
“At five in the morning, we will enter social quarantine,” Maduro said in a televised address on Sunday evening. “There is no other option … We either go into quarantine, or the pandemic could brutally and tragically bring down our country.”
Exceptions to quarantine will allow for the passage of transport, health, and food delivery services, he added.
Security forces were deployed around the country to impose travel restrictions as well as support sanitization efforts in areas deemed a contagion risk.
Venezuelan hospitals have for years experienced chronic shortages of medical resources such as antibiotics and basic sanitary products required to confront an epidemic. Such a crisis in healthcare has existed for years, with the leading national newspaper El Nacional in 2017 dubbing the situation a “Health Holocaust.”
“Most hospitals don’t have water, face masks or even soap,” Dr. Patricia Valenzuela, board member of the Venezuelan Society of Infectology, told the AP last week. “We’re not prepared.”
One of Maduro’s strategies for dealing with the virus is to step up the importation of Cuban doctors as part of an agreement first drawn up between late dictators Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, where medical specialists are sent abroad to perform slave labor for the communist regime.
Cuba has built an unwarranted reputation for high standards of health care, despite the fact it has some of the worst health outcomes in the world and actively manipulates health statistics like infant mortality. On Sunday, Venezuelan state media outlet VTV reported that a delegation of Cuban specialists had arrived in Caracas to help Venezuela deal with the outbreak. Last week, Maduro falsely claimed that Cuba had found a cure for the virus.
“Cuba is at the head, at the vanguard — Cuba, always Cuba, is at the vanguard, with interferon, a medicine created with Cuban medical technology,” he said at an event commemorating the National Day of the Doctors and Doctors of the Homeland. “This is a medicine created in Cuba that has had excellent results in its application in the coronavirus crisis in China.”