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Mon 28 September 2020
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James Melville continues his comparisons of global best practice responses to the Pandemic with the first Latin America country to report a COVID-19 case.

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We have had relative and fragile success, but we cannot let our guard down.

Costa Rica’s President, Carlos Alvarado 

Costa Rica were the first Latin American country to reported a case of COVID-19, but it has become one of the most successful nations in the world in the fight against the coronavirus. Its infection and death rates are even lower than of New Zealand — a country that is seen as one of the gold standard nation responders to the pandemic. 

By 12 May, Costa Rica had reported just 801 cases of COVID-19 and 7 deaths. The number of people recovering from coronavirus in Costa Rica has recently outpaced the number of new cases.

The main reason why Costa Rica have managed to limit the spread of the virus is largely due to their swift response through social distancing, immediate lockdowns and a complete shut down of its borders. 

Costa Rica banned mass gatherings on 9 March and, on 16 March, declared a state of emergency, under which people were told to work from home, and schools and all non-essential businesses were closed. The country’s borders were subsequently shut on 19 March.

The government responded immediately to the pandemic and it’s now beginning the process of unlocking society.


From 1 May, theatres, cinemas and gyms were allowed to reopen, but with a ruling that people must keep two metres apart at all times. Sports venues are now opening but by allowed use of just a quarter of their seating capacity. Beauticians and hairdressers are also allowed to resume trading but must only have half as many customers as their salons can accommodate.

According to the World Economic Forum website, the Costa Rican borders will remain closed until at least 15 May. Restrictions on driving, intended to prevent people from spreading the virus will remain in force. Driving at night is banned and drivers may only drive on certain days if their licence plate ends in a particular number.

Costa Rica’s successful response to COVID-19 has also been helped by huge public adherence to the government’s guidance and stipulations. According to a report by Google, visits to shops and recreational premises have dropped 84% and to parks and beaches by 82%.

The government of Costa Rica are now already looking beyond the virus. They have announced a huge infrastructure spending programme aimed at revitalising the economy and employment through the construction of new roads and rail and increased social security investment to those affected by job losses.

Costa Rica’s success holding the virus at bay mirrors a similar pattern shown in other countries with progressive governments. Costa Rica, Denmark, New Zealand and Portugal have all acted early with immediate lockdowns after the first reported cases and now they are unlocking. Compare and contrast with the inaction and muddled approaches of the right-wing populist governments in Brazil, the US and the UK. The combined death rates in these three countries now accounts for almost 50% of the entire global death toll from Coronavirus.

Costa Rica’s success holding the virus at bay mirrors a similar pattern shown in other countries with progressive governments

A consistent theme has now emerged during the Coronavirus crisis. Countries that acted almost immediately in their response have minimised the cases and death rates. Countries that dithered and delayed in their response are now dealing with a public health tragedy that will now be extremely difficult to resolve. 

As with many things in life, success lies with acting with foresight rather than playing catch up with hindsight. 

This article was updated on 15/07/2020 to source the information about opening Costa Rica’s borders

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