This week, Ecuador holds the first round of its presidential election. Brazil holds a crucial lower house leadership vote, while there is expectation over possible vaccine moves. Mexico’s Congress starts the final session before the June mid-term elections, while the Covid-19 crisis remains more serious than ever. Chile and Peru are also battling rising Covid-19 caseloads while relying – at least at this stage – on Chinese vaccines.
The first round of the presidential election takes place on 7 February alongside legislative elections. If no candidate wins 50% plus one vote or more than 40% with a ten-point margin over their nearest rival – as appears likely – a run-off vote will take place on 11 April. The latest Cedatos poll puts the center-right candidate Guillermo Lasso slightly ahead on 26.2% against the leftist Andres Arauz, who is on 24%, with the undecided vote as high as 31.2%. Polling is now prohibited, making it difficult to assess the impact of allegations published in a Colombian news magazine over the weekend that Arauz received campaign funding from Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group.
This week starts with the elections of House Speaker and Senate Chairman today, 1 February. The pro-government candidate in the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco from the Democrats (DEM), should win, but in the House the result is still unpredictable. The pro-government candidate Arthur Lira from the Progressives (PP) appears to be ahead, but betrayals are expected (since the vote is secret) and may favor the independent Baleia Rossi from the centrist MDB. The week should also see much discussion on Covid-19 vaccines and possible announcements on new shipments. So far, Brazil has only 12.5mn doses available and can only start local production in a few weeks if the active pharmaceutical ingredient arrives from China, as currently planned, by 8 February.
A new congressional session starts today, 1 February, and will run (virtually) until 30 April. The governing National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party wants to ensure it advances substantive and headline-grabbing initiatives since this is the last session before the June mid-term elections. The controversial bill that would oblige the Central Bank (Banxico) to become the buyer of last resort for excess USD that commercial banks are sometimes unable to return abroad will be back on the agenda, as will another controversial initiative to restrict subcontracting.
What may be in the works in Congress is likely to be overshadowed by the health crisis. Speculation over President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO)’s own state of health will probably dissipate after he released a video on 30 January in which he appears to be in good health. The broader situation remains critical: January was the worst month for new cases and deaths since the Covid-19 outbreak began. There were 32,729 Covid-19 deaths in January and 438,166 new cases; the latter in particular is likely to be an undercount. Meanwhile, as of yesterday, vaccines had been applied to around 0.5% of the population amid delivery delays affecting several of the vaccines that the government has secured.
The Covid-19 vaccination drive is set to start in earnest on 3 February. As of yesterday, 31 January, only 56,000 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been given. However, over recent days, two deliveries of Sinovac’s vaccine totaling almost 4mn doses have arrived in Chile. The government’s ambitious plan is to vaccine 100,000 people per day in the first phase, covering with at least one dose the population aged over 71 plus health personnel by 12 February. The wider plan is to vaccinate 5mn people by the end of March. The vaccine roll-out comes amid rising cases, and with ICU occupancy at a six-month high; authorities estimate that there are currently around 26,000 active cases in the country.
A new lockdown began yesterday, 31 January, in nine regions, including the capital Lima. The new lockdown, which only recently caretaker President Francisco Sagasti described as an “extreme option,” will last two weeks before its effects are reviewed. The lockdown follows a rise in coronavirus cases that has put the health system under increasing strain, with shortages of oxygen in many areas. Enforcing the lockdown when so many are reliant on daywork and buy basic supplies on a daily basis will be difficult – as evinced in last year’s lockdown, which lost effectiveness over time. Meanwhile, the government has been at pains to secure vaccines; a delivery of 1mn doses of the Sinopharm vaccine is now expected on 9 February.