Paraguay’s most honored writer, Augusto Roa Bastos, called his homeland “an island surrounded by land,” and it so far has indeed seemed isolated from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic sweeping through neighboring countries.
The nation of some 7 million people has recorded only 10 deaths as it shelters behind frontiers largely closed to guard against the illness, its once-busy border bridges are empty save for a stray dog or two.
It has recorded fewer than 750 confirmed cases, most of those among people who were placed in mandatory quarantine for 14 days after entering from Brazil or Argentina. Some have been housed in military barracks, some in hotels.
Regularly scheduled flights have been cancelled as well, leaving just a few planes on humanitarian missions, often bringing home Paraguayans who had been stranded abroad, or carrying foreigners to their own homelands — all after being checked for temperature.
Paraguay was among the first in the region to impose tight restrictions in March — telling people to stay home except to get food, medicine or medical care. Schools have long since closed. Churches are empty. Buses have been halted, forcing some some to sleep where they work.
Still, many venture out to find something to eat, or the money to buy it. A few ignore quarantine restrictions to cast fishing lines into the Paraguay River. Some line up for packages of food handed out at elementary schools. And some scrounge for what they can find in the trash bins of the central food distribution market in Asuncion, the capital.
The country also has been among the first to ease up. As of May 4, the government allowed many businesses to resume. Builders once again set to work on projects — at least those in the open air.