Governor Wanda Vázquez announced on Saturday the extension of the confinement (lockdown) until May 3rd as a measure to stop the coronavirus pandemic on the island, one of the strictest decisions made in a United States jurisdiction.
Vázquez said that non-essential businesses will continue to be closed and that the population should remain in their homes from 9:00pm to 5:00 in the morning, although people will be allowed to circulate during the day to buy food and medicine, or go to the bank.
"We intend to temper the limited access to essential services with these restrictions," said Vázquez in his message.
However, Vázquez lifted all restrictions for vehicular traffic and indicated that all hardware stores and workshops of all types of automotive service will be able to operate twice a week during limited hours.
"There are no limitations in relation to the license plates, they already fulfilled their purpose this past week, that it was important to have a special adjustment so that we could control the curve," argued the governor.
Up until Saturday, cars with license plates ending on even numbers were allowed to circulate on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while those ending on odd numbers circulated Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Critics of the order argued it would have the opposite effect and provoke larger crowds at supermarkets and pharmacies. News media corroborated that longer lines were formed at these businesses during this period.
The entire population must continue wearing compulsory nose and mouth masks when entering businesses, and Health Secretary Lorenzo González, warned that the highest point of the contagion curve is expected to be registered until the beginning of May.
"We cannot let our guard down," said the Health Secretary. "We haven't seen the worst moment."
But González’s remarks seem to contradict the statistic information offered by the governor moments before, when Vázquez assured the contagion curve had stabilized.
With 3.2 million inhabitants, Puerto Rico has reported more than 780 confirmed cases and at least 42 deaths (including several unconfirmed), including that of a pediatrician and a couple of people over 40 without previous health problems. The results of more than 1,300 tests are still pending and nearly 900 police officers have been quarantined after being exposed to COVID-19.
For their part, critics pointed out that the government does not have an accurate picture of the number of cases of the disease in the island because no generalized testing has been performed. About 7,700 people have been tested so far.
The confinement was first implemented on March 15 and the extension announced on Saturday raised doubts about its impact on an island that is still recovering from the damage caused by Hurricane María and from a recent series of strong earthquakes, in the midst of a 13-year economic recession.
To most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that disappear in two to three weeks. In some people, especially older adults and those with underlying health conditions, it can lead to more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia, and even death.