A Month Down. Two More Weeks to Go.

Quarantine Peru National Lockdown

Graphic via Desirée Tapias for The Americano

Peru has one of the longest lockdowns in Latin America. Every two weeks the government has extended the COVID-19 measures. How do people keep their sanity?

By Carlos Berninzon Barrón

April 13, 2020

Chirps versus tweets, seeds and echoes of past terrorist-fighting curfews, a Peruvian finds serenity in one of the longest nationwide lockdowns in Latin America.

Lima is a sprawling city of more than nine million people. I live in the border between the residential neighborhoods of Miraflores and San Isidro, where citizens walk on desolate streets to supermarkets or bodegas wearing masks.

No one is allowed to exercise outdoors and the use of private cars is restricted to emergencies. All restaurants are closed; no delivery services are allowed. In a city where noise pollution is prevalent and cars honk nonstop, this newfound haven of peace feels unreal, luxurious, almost like entering a warp-zone.  

One month ago, I planted a handful of Lima bean seeds in two pots and every morning, I sit with my five-month-old son and watch how far its green vines have grown overnight.

As the autumn sun rises, we enjoy a soothing soundtrack of Pacific doves, black scrub birds, seagulls, long-tailed mockingbirds and red-cheeked parrots tweet and trill while they eat and fly. But the silence, the uncomfortable quietude of the human-produced silence, feels eerie.

On March 16, Peru became one of the first countries in Latin America to enact a mandatory quarantine. As of April 13, 7519 people have been infected with the virus; 193 have died as per the government official data.

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Initially, the quarantine was supposed to last fifteen days but on March 26 the government extended it for an additional two weeks through April 12. And then extended it again until April 26.

The dates covered the Easter holidays, when many would have met with family and friends, increasing exposure to the virus. It’s not the ideal scenario, but two or three weeks juggling work from home, house chores and a baby feels safer than facing a greater possibility of infection.

Plus, late at night as discouraging news keeps me awake, I look up the birds I have seen and heard in the morning in ornithology guides. The confinement has rekindled a forgotten hobby.  

On the political front, most Peruvians approve of the government’s actions. Many tune in to the TV and radio to hear President Vizcarra and his ministers deliver their daily COVID-19 briefing.

A poll released a few weeks ago shows 95% of the population supports the quarantine and 83% supports Vizcarra’s performance. 

At night, we have a 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. nationwide curfew. It’s all too familiar. In the 1990s, Peruvians also had to abide by a curfew imposed to fight the terrorist group, Shining Path. They used to blow up high voltage electricity transmission towers that plunged cities into darkness. One night, early on during this quarantine, several neighborhoods suffered a blackout. These weeks remind me of that era.

Army officers can be seen strategically positioned in key intersections stopping cars and asking for safe-passage documents. If we had gone back in time, the enemy would be now an invisible virus seeking to stealthily take over our way of life. 

Right now, it’s four down, and two more to go. With the uncertainty of when we will meet again with our families and friends, the warble and chirping that have taken over my neighborhood are a reminder that one can find serenity and calmness in the midst of the pandemic. I don’t know if I will miss these contemplative moments of ear dropping on the songbirds, but at dawn, it surely beats turning on the cellphone to stay tuned to the latest news on Twitter.

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