Costa Rica's 5-step response to the Covid spike

Costa Rica announces decisive steps it should've taken weeks ago.

Costa Rica has announced a five-step response to the ongoing spike in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Health authorities also announced new records in Covid-19 hospitalizations (1,423) and deaths over the last 24 hours (48).

The news from Tuesday’s press conference is below:

Improved testing and tracing

Costa Rica has finally approved antigen tests for the general public. Previously, only travelers with an international itinerary were eligible for the faster and cheaper diagnostic tests. This is long overdue and will make it easier to detect asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus.

The Social Security System (Caja), which runs the public healthcare system, is also opening areas where people can quarantine if they test positive. This will help Costa Rica isolate new cases and provide an additional level of care for those who are symptomatic but don’t yet require hospitalization.

Finally, more health centers will now operate 24 hours per day to better improve patient care.

Changes to the vaccine campaign

Costa Rica says it has administered 1.25 million vaccine doses and that it expects to reach herd immunity by the end of 2021. Still, vaccination rates are behind those of richer countries, which President Carlos Alvarado has accused of “hoarding” doses.

Starting immediately, all health centers across Costa Rica will begin vaccinating the third priority group. This comprises adults ages 18-58 with risk factors.

Costa Rica will also begin to vaccinate some members of its fourth priority group, including teachers, employees of the Child Welfare Office (PANI), and garbage collectors.

Finally, Costa Rica will now administer the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine 12 weeks (up from 21 days) after the first jab for most adults. This is in line with recent studies and will allow Costa Rica to accelerate administrations of first doses.

Reducing non-essential mobility

For the rest of May, there will be national daytime vehicular restrictions based on the last digit of the vehicle's license plate:

On days highlighted purple, only vehicles with plates ending in odd numbers can circulate. On dates highlighted green, only vehicles with plates ending in even numbers can circulate. The nighttime driving ban (9 p.m. to 5 a.m.) continues unchanged.

The usual exceptions (rental vehicles, people driving to/from a hotel reservation, people driving to/from the airport and people driving to/from work) continue to apply. The official list can be found here.

Authorities say the driving restrictions reduce unnecessary mobility, which in turn reduces contagion. In addition, fewer people driving means fewer accidents, which eases the burden on overcrowded hospitals.

Adding more hospital beds

The Caja says it will free beds that are currently occupied by non-coronavirus patients in order to make them available to patients with Covid-19.

This will involve moving extended-stay patients to non-hospital facilities, and transferring patients without Covid-19 to private health centers. In total, the Caja expects to add about 400 more beds.

There were 1,423 people hospitalized with Covid-19 in Costa Rica on Tuesday, including 499 in the ICU. Costa Rican hospitals have maintained waiting lists for ICU beds for more than a week.

International support

Finally, Costa Rica is more urgently asking for international support. The government said Tuesday that it is in communication with the United States and China about potential vaccine donations.

Costa Rican leaders said they have or will receive medical supply donations from Saudi Arabia, the United States, China and Singapore.

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