During the 2019–2020 coronavirus disease pandemic, the first two patients with COVID-19 in Venezuela were confirmed on 13 March 2020. On 26 March, the first death was reported. The first record of a patient claiming to have symptoms of coronavirus disease dates back to 29 February 2020. Government officials suspect that the first person carrying of the virus could have entered the country as early as 25 February.
On 7 March, Fe y Alegría reported that a suspicious medical case was registered in Maracaibo. It involved a 31-year-old non-Venezuelan, who entered the Dr. Pedro Iturbe Hospital in Zulia and was transferred to the University Hospital of Maracaibo. The patient had apparent symptoms and was discharged days later. The state governor, Omar Prieto [es], asked the Public Ministry to investigate the University of Zulia professor, Freddy Pachano, for bringing attention to the suspected cases in the state. The NGO Espacio Público condemned Prieto for ordering an investigation against the professor.
On 13 March, the coronavirus pandemic was confirmed to have spread to Venezuela when the Venezuelan government announced the first two cases in the state of Miranda. Colombian president Iván Duque closed the border with Venezuela, effective 14 March.
On 15 March, Nicolás Maduro confirmed seven more cases and ordered Venezuelans in six states and in Caracas to remain at home, and all associated businesses to close effective the next day. The "collective quarantine" made exceptions for transportation, health, and delivery of food.
On 16 March, Argentina's ambassador in Venezuela, Eduardo Porretti, tested positive for the virus. The same day, Maduro announced that 16 new cases were confirmed, bringing the total to 33. He ordered a "social quarantine" in all national territory.
On 17 March, authorities in Brazil partially closed their border with Venezuela. Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta had urged closure of the border due to Venezuela's collapsing health system. Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez announced three more cases the same day. In the afternoon, a patient that afterwards tested positive for coronavirus fled from a hospital in Propatria, in west Caracas, without the authorization of medical personnel.
On 18 March, Delcy Rodríguez reported that the numbers of cases had not changed in the previous day.
On 19 March, Jorge Rodríguez announced an additional 6 cases, bringing the total to 42.
On 21 March, the government reported 70 confirmed cases in the country, 2 of which were in critical condition and 15 labeled as recovered (showing no symptoms after five days). Rodríguez said the two critical cases were hospitalized in private centers in Miranda state and treatment was provided free through the Ministry of Health despite them being in private clinics.
On 22 March, Maduro announced 77 total cases in the country, and new economic measures to deal with the consequences of the pandemic. Rent and credit payments were suspended for six months, accompanied by compensation in local currency for property owners and medium size businesses. It also extended a 2015 policy that prevents companies from firing employees through December 2020.
On 26 March, Delcy Rodríguez announced the first death due to coronavirus disease.
On 12 March, PresidentNicolás Maduro had already declared a public health emergency in the country and suspended all inbound flights from Europe and Colombia for 30 days. Maduro also announced that public gatherings were suspended and that the government would be evaluating whether or not to suspend flights from other regions in the coming weeks. According to him, there had been 30 suspected cases in Venezuela, but they were ruled out after tests.
After the first cases in the country were confirmed, vice president Delcy Rodríguez asked all the passengers of the 5 and 8 March Iberia 6673 flight to enter immediately in a mandatory preventive quarantine since the two cases were from this flight.
Rodríguez announced that all classes would be suspended at public and private schools from Monday 16 March until further notice, while Minister Néstor Reverol announced that the government would provide border control authorities with face masks, gloves and thermometers, without mentioning supplies for citizens and hospitals. Reverol also announced that the operational control of all the police forces would be transferred to the Armed Forces in order to coordinate the action and contigency plan.
On 14 March, authorities arrested two people for spreading false information about the virus, recording a video about fake cases in Los Teques. SUDEBAN, the government's intendency related to banks and financial institutions, announced the suspension of banking activities effective from 16 March.
On 16 March, Maduro reversed the official position against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and asked the institution for a funding of US$5 billion to combat the pandemic, a first during Maduro's presidency who has been a critic of the institution. IMF also has had conflicts with the Bolivarian government in the past, as Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chávez had pledged to cut ties with the fund in 2007, and the IMF suspended US$400 million in special drawing rights during the Venezuelan presidential crisis in 2019. The IMF rejected the deal as it was not clear, among its member states, on who it recognizes as Venezuela's president, Nicolás Maduro or Juan Guaidó. According to a report by Bloomberg, Maduro administration also tried to request aid of $1 billion to the IMF, after the first request was denied.
On 19 March, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez announced that 4,000 diagnosis kits were delivered from China to test for coronavirus. The government said that the Chinese diagnosis kits would benefit 300,000 Venezuelans and thanked the Chinese government and its paramount leaderXi Jinping for its generosity. In a separate measure, Venezuela's INEA maritime authority has prohibited crews aboard ships docking in the country's ports from disembarking. The same day, President Maduro announced that he received a letter from the United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative Peter Grohmann, confirming that the organization "is ready to support the Venezuelan government in its fight against COVID-19." Maduro stressed that the UN has taken concrete actions, particularly in the areas of health and water, sanitation and hygiene, and "will support the Ministry of Health in the care and containment of the coronavirus." Likewise, they will offer support in the disclosure of reliable and updated information.
On 20 March, Maduro said that Russia was considering "a significant donation of special humanitarian aid" to the country, such as medical equipment and kits for the diagnosis of COVID-19 and is expected to arrive by next week. On 23 March, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza and Russian ambassador Sergei Melik-Bagdasarov announced that 10,000 diagnosis kits were delivered from Russia, with more to be supplied in future shipments. In a tweet, President Maduro thanked the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin for their generosity and for standing in solidarity with the Venezuelan people.
Maduro announced several economic measures on 23 March to deal with labor immobility, the assumption of wage payment by the state, the suspension of rent and credit interests payments, the assignment of new bonds, the flexibility of credits acquisition, the prohibition of the telecommunication services and the guarantee of CLAP supplies (the Local Committees for Supply and Production, in English).
National Assembly response
Disputed National Assembly leader and disputed acting presidentJuan Guaidó said that the country is experiencing one of the most serious health crises in its history caused by the inactions of the Maduro government and announced a series of measures in order to take "responsible measures against the pandemic." These include the postponement of opposition protests and the creation of the Special Health Commission. In addition, Guaidó also called for the entry of humanitarian aid from the United Nations while explaining that health services are not impacted by international sanctions.
The Committee of Electoral Candidacies, in charge of appointing a new National Electoral Council (CNE), announced that it would suspend its meetings because of the pandemic.
Julio Castro [es], head of the Special Health Commission appointed by Juan Guaidó, informed that face masks are a prevention measure useful only for at least one day, that once used the mask loses its effectiveness and can become an infection source, and declared that Venezuelans have to take additional measures to deal with the pandemic.
National Assembly deputy Jesús Yánez announced that the government of Taiwan donated 1,000 surgical masks as a measure to prevent the coronavirus pandemic. The masks were distributed in five stations of the Caracas Metro (Plaza Sucre, Pérez Bonalde, Plaza Venezuela, Chacao and Petare). Yánez highlighted that the metro is a means of transportation used by a large part of the population and is a breeding ground for the pandemic due to the crowding of people in closed spaces if any positive case should become known.
Guaidó's Special Health Commission collected 3,500 protection kits for caregivers at five hospitals on 16 March.
On 21 March, Guaidó announced that he delivered medical kits to protect the health sector from the coronavirus pandemic. On his official Twitter account, he shared a video expressing that “We are protecting a sector that today is giving everything: the health sector, our doctors and nurses. To support them is to support us all. We must bring this help to hundreds who need it." and concluded “We can contain this emergency. Venezuela is in our hands. #AuxilioParaVzla." Guaidó also announced the creation of the Human Rights Observatory as a response of the increase of human rights violations in the country.
Guaidó called for the creation of a "national emergency government", not lead by Maduro, on 28 March. According to Guaidó, a loan of US$1.2 billion in international loans is ready to support a power-shared coalition between pro-Maduro civilians and military and the opposition in order to fight the coronavirus disease epidemic in Venezuela. If accepted, the money would go to assists families affected by the disease and the economic consequences.
The Health Ministry approved the certification for the microbiology laboratory of the University of the Andes, in the Mérida state, to start cayying out tests to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 disease. Once the necessary supplies and vials are received, the laboratory would be able to perform up to 20 daily tests, it would be expected to be the second laboratory in the country that performs detection tests after the National Hygiene Institute in Caracas, and it would be expected for the laboratory to carry out tests in the Mérida, Táchira, Trujillo and Barinas states, as well as possibly other states in the west, in order to reduce the time that is needed to send samples to the Hygiene Institute in Caracas.
Three men that were playing dominoes during the quarantine were murdered on 21 March in the 23 de Enero parish, in Caracas, and two more were injured. According to neighbors and relatives, a dozen of members of the colectivo Tres Raíces arrived while they were playing and were responsible of their death; they accused the members of being linked with Iris Varela, Minister of Popular Power for the Prison Service, to a CICPC officer and of wearing FAES and National Police uniforms, announcing that they would protest as a response to the killings, in defiance of the quarantine. The colectivo denied the accusations, saying that the murders were motivated by a reckoning.
On late March, the colectivos Tres Raíces and La Piedrita started imposing a curfew in the 23 de Enero parish, increasing repression and imposing closure times to businesses.
Maduro asked to not politicize the pandemic, while he expressed concern as to how the country would control the pandemic because of the United States sanctions. Maduro called on US PresidentDonald Trump to lift the sanctions so the country could acquire necessary medical supplies.
Juan Guaidó denounced that since the start of the pandemic, human rights violations by Maduro's administration had increased, citing the murder of three people in the 23 de Enero parish, the arrest of Darvinson Rojas, and human rights abuses against political prisoners, who are held in prisons with a high infection risk. Guaidó announced the creation of the Human Rights Observatory as a response.
The Venezuelan Medical Federation condemned that a medic in Zulia had to leave to Colombia after denouncing the situation in Venezuela for the presence of the virus, and asked for the release of the political prisoners in the country, who are vulnerable to the virus, specifically Roberto Marrero, Juan Requesens and other lawmakers.
In the Anzoátegui state, nurses denounced the lack of face masks, gloves and disposable gowns on 16 March.
On 19 March, the Chinese Embassy in Caracas rejected the accusations made by National Assembly deputies against China, by calling the pandemic as "China or Wuhan virus." In a statement, the embassy "strongly rejects the attacks and unfounded and arbitrary accusations of some Venezuelan deputies to China."
Media outlets such as El Nacional denounced the price increase of face masks. Outlets have also reported the violation of the quarantine for reasons such as buying food, medicines, and both cleaning and hygiene products, as well as the public services crisis, including the lack of drinking water, electric power, cooking gas, telephone signal and waste collection.
The United States Embassy in Venezuela rejected claims from Nicolás Maduro and Jorge Arreaza that sanctions are preventing the government from purchasing medical supplies, saying that “medicines, medical supplies, spare parts and components for medical devices in Venezuela, or to people from third countries who buy specifically for resale from Venezuela are excluded from the sanctions." Days later, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza rejected the claims, calling the statements "the height of impudence and falsehood." He declared that Venezuelan government assets worth more than US$5 billion were blocked overseas, in addition to "Venezuela's ban on access to the international banking system".
On 24 March, UN High Commissioner for Human RightsMichelle Bachelet called for any sanctions imposed on Venezuela and other countries facing the pandemic such as Cuba, Iran, and Zimbabwe to be "urgently reevaluated" in order to avoid pushing strained medical systems into collapse. In a statement, Bachelet said: "At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended." Bachelet also accentuated the need to protect health workers in these countries as authorities should not punish professionals that point out the deficiencies in the state response to the crisis.
International concern was raised before the first cases were reported, as Venezuela's health care system has completely collapsed due to the ongoing crisis, meaning its already suffering population is especially vulnerable to the spread of a pandemic.
Per the Global Health Security Index, Venezuela's health system is ranked among the worst in the world in its ability to detect, quickly respond, and mitigate a pandemic. Hospitals are plagued by chronic shortages of supplies, including eye protectors, gloves, masks, and soap. Due to ongoing shortages of resources, hospitals must also constantly deal with chronic lack of staff, thus making the response to treating a large number of infected patients significantly more challenging. Patients are also often turned away at hospitals due to overcrowding, or asked to bring in their own gauze, IV solution, or syringes, while there are often no hygiene facilities like toilets, and power outages are a regular occurrence.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said that it would be prioritizing Venezuela alongside Haiti and other Central and South American countries because of “challenges to their health systems.”
Reuters reported that Venezuela's notoriously overcrowded and unsanitary prisons could spread the coronavirus "like a fast-moving fire." Venezuelan prisons frequently lack bathrooms, people sleep on floors, and many inmates spend their days without shirts or shoes on, in part to combat the infernal heat of windowless facilities. This has caused US Secretary of StateMike Pompeo to demand the Maduro government release six Citgo executives, held in prison since 2017, on humanitarian grounds. Pompeo said that all six men have weakened immune systems and "face a grave health risk if they become infected" with the coronavirus pandemic.
On 18 March, 84 out of 518 inmates escaped from a prison in San Carlos, Zulia, after restrictions against the pandemic were announced, including jail visits. Mayor Bladimir Labrador declared that ten prisoners were killed during the prison break and that two policemen were detained for complicity. According to Carlos Nieto Palma from the NGO Ventana a la Libertad, the suspension of visits directly affects the prisoner's nutrition, given that there was no state-sponsored program to feed them. The NGO Provea denounced "grave human rights violations" after a military spokesperson announced the "neutralization" of 35 escapees. State authorities later declared that the there were eight deaths.
On 19 March, a person self-identified as a member of the Tupamarocolectivo in the 23 de Enero parish of Caracas declared to his community with a megaphone that a case was confirmed, specifically in Block 39, asking his neighbors to stay home and to prevent other blocks from being infected.
Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional, reported a total of 65 cases for 20 March, according to undisclosed sources from the Health Ministry. On that day the ministry did not report any official numbers, the toll was officially updated the next day going from 42 to 70. Similarly, before the official report on 23 March, El Nacional reported 84 cases according undisclosed source from the Health Ministry.
Juan Guaidó has questioned the veracity of the official number of cases, stating that there are inconsistencies in the estimates given. In an interview with El Nuevo Herald on 22 March, Guaidó declared that the number of confirmed cases in Venezuela could be more than two hundred, according to opposition estimates, contrary to the 70 cases that Maduro's administration recognized at the moment. El Nuevo Herald reported that internal sources extraofficially confirmed that estimate, that according to said sources there were 181 confirmed cases on the morning of 21 March and a total of 298 in observation.
On 13 March, Delta Amacuro indigenous leader and journalist Melquiades Ávila, who has criticized health infrastructure in the country, questioned publicly through Facebook "will our hospital be ready for coronavirus?” and joked Maduro's claim that 46 hospitals were prepared for COVID-19. The Governor of Delta Amacuro Lizeta Hernández and member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, sent the state army to detain Ávila. When asked why by Reuters on the matter, she said that it was to “orient” Ávila and ensure he was being “serious and responsible”.
On 14 March, an opposition lawmaker, Tony Geara, was arrested in a roadblock after declaring that there was no running water in one of the hospitals listed as prepared by the Bolivarian government. A court charged Geara with illegal possession of explosives and weapons. Geara denies the charges.
According to twelve medical workers interviewed by Reuters, security forces uses roadblocks and checkpoints to shakedown medical staff.
On 15 March, Julio Molinos, a medical union leader and retired technician, published a video asking the government to be transparent about hospital conditions. Special Action Force (FAES) arrested Molinos, who was sentenced to house arrest on charges of compiracy and inciting hatred.
The National Assembly released a webpage to provide information and health recommendations on COVID-19 but the access to the website was restricted by CANTV, the state internet provider. The censorship was denounced by Guaidó.
On the night of 21 March 2020, journalist Darvinson Rojas was arrested at his home in Caracas by officials of the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) and around fifteen armed personnel from the Special Actions Force (FAES). According to the National Union of Press Workers (SNTP), the arrest was related to the coverage of Rojas with his recent publications on the COVID-19 situation in Venezuela. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called for the immediate release of Rojas. Nathalie Southwick, CPJ coordinator, stated that "Violently detaining a journalist and interrogating him about his sources on a vital public health issue like the COVID-19 outbreak has an undeniable chilling effect that will only discourage other journalists from reporting on the pandemic."Amnesty International demanded Rojas immediate and unconditional release.
After 12 days incarcerated, Darvinson Rojas was set free on 3 April 2020 under precautionary measures.
Cases per federal entity as of 1 April 2020, according to the Bolivarian Government:
Various Venezuelan newspapers have pointed out that there have been some inconsistencies with the government reports by federal states. For example, 24 March report differs from 23 report, as Táchira and Portuguesa that reported cases before, were no longer included. On 26 March, while the official report indicated 107 total cases, the number of cases per dependency amounted to 108.
As of 16 March, there were 33 confirmed cases in Venezuela. According to official estimates, among these, 28 came from Europe and 5 from Cúcuta, Colombia. Two of the cases consisted of foreign citizens, one of a diplomatic official, while the rest consisted of Venezuelan residents.
By 22 March, Maduro announced out of all the 77 cases were imported. According to him, 43 had traveled recently, the distribution was as follows:
^ abcdThe number of cases per region is inconsistent and may differ from source to source. In Aragua, Apure, Capital District and undisclosed locations the number of cases may have a difference of 1 or 2 cases from the one reported in the table.