In Depth

Riot police use tear gas as Peruvians try to flee coronavirus lockdown

Desperate families defy restrictions to seek support and food outside Lima

Riot police in Peru have blockaded a major road and fired tear gas into crowds attempting to flee the capital city of Lima as the country’s strict coronavirus lockdown entered its sixth week.

The Guardian reports that television news on Monday showed “hundreds of families, including young children, trekking along highways” as they attempted to make the journey to their family homes.

Poorer Peruvians have been trying to leave Lima since last week, the paper adds, with many saying they had to “choose between hunger or homelessness in the city or risking exposure to Covid-19 as they attempt to return home”.

Maricela de la Cruz, who was trying to return to Huancayo, in Peru’s central Andes, told Associated Press: “Here in Lima there are no longer any jobs, there is no longer any way to pay for food, we do not have any more savings.”

What has been happening in Peru?

According to latest figures, Peru has so far recorded 16,325 cases of coronavirus and 445 deaths. The figures mean it is second only to Brazil – which has a population almost seven times larger than Peru’s – in the number of infections in the region.

The Peruvian government has enforced strict measures to stem the spread of coronavirus, with the BBC reporting that restricting public movement by sex has become a hallmark of the Covid-19 containment effort.

Men can leave home only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the broadcaster says, while women can do so on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. On Sundays, no one is allowed out.

Peruvian president, Martin Vizcarra, has also deployed troops and the police to enforce the lockdown, which includes a nightly curfew.

However, with more than 70% of Peruvians working in the unregulated economy, according to the country’s statistics institute, the lockdown is beginning to take its toll.

“We have done everything possible to stay the 30 quarantine days. Now we want to go back because we have a house, family, we have someone who can support us – here in Lima we have absolutely no one,” said De la Cruz.

According to Bloomberg, the government has introduced a huge stimulus package worth 90bn soles (£21bn) – equivalent to about 12% of GDP. This included millions in fortnightly cash transfers to poor families.

However, Associated Press reports that many of the poorest in Peru now face a “desperate hunt for food” each day.

“The pandemic has spotlighted the wide gap between rich and poor in Peru and elsewhere in Latin America,” the news agency notes, “and economists say a looming recession worse than any since World War II could push the continent’s long-suffering poor into even more dire circumstances.”

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Why were there clashes?

Many poor Peruvians in the capital have family living in rural towns and are looking to travel back there in order to have access to a support network. 

However, authorities called in riot police to block a major route out of Lima, leading to the San Martin Province and other areas of the country. 

The Guardian reports that police fired tear gas into the crowds in an effort to control their movement.

President Vizcarra said on Monday that the weeks ahead would be the most difficult yet and would require “everyone’s highest capacity to respond”.

“The number of patients is close to exceeding the capacity of the health service,” he said.

However, the former Peruvian finance minister, Alonso Segura, said that the attempts by people to move out of the city into the countryside showed that the state’s response was “pushed to its limits”, the Guardian says.

“The government cannot push the severe lockdown much longer,” said Segura. “Companies are going bankrupt and the desperation of the people is increasing. More than an economic issue, it’s a social issue.”

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