‘There’s no room’: COVID takes Haiti by surprise

For more than a year, Haiti escaped the worst ravages of the COVID pandemic, reporting few cases and fatalities.

It was a rare break for the poorest country in the Americas, which has so often been beset by misfortune. Until now.

As some countries are already moving into a post-pandemic world thanks to vaccination campaigns, Haiti is grappling with its first serious outbreak, and the country has yet to receive its first batch of vaccine doses or administer a single shot.

Doctors like Ronald Laroche are also sounding the alarm.

"All public and private sites are taking in patients. There's no room for anymore. More sites must be opened to meet the needs of patients with breathing difficulties, so as to avert a catastrophe."

Officially, Haiti has had recorded nearly 16 thousand infections and 333 deaths from COVID-19 among its 11 million people - relatively low case numbers compared to elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Yet data is limited due to low testing rates and doctors say the real numbers are likely much higher. And local health officials are warning the upwards trend could prove "catastrophic."

President Jovenel Moise -- who at one point urged Haitians to drink unproven medicinal tea to ward off the virus -- is now implementing strict public health measures.

"We are taking measures to prohibit ceremonies, recreational activities, end of school year celebrations. Those activities are to be prohibited. These are measures taken by the government to protect students and educational personnel during this difficult moment where the coronavirus is causing real victims."

Poor sanitation means disease can spread fast in Haiti. Its slums are densely packed, and its already overwhelmed and inefficient healthcare system is dependent on fickle donations.

Despite the threat - many locals still dismiss the virus as not a big deal or even doubt its existence. While other Haitians are fearful they could be exposed.

HAITIAN CITIZEN, MADJINA ANTOINE:"Even though we try to follow the indications to protect ourselves, it's not easy in Haiti. People are very close to each other inside trucks. If I am wearing my face mask, others do not. We are trying to respect social distancing, washing hands, using hand sanitizer. But in spite of all that, we don't feel protected."

Next week, Haiti should receive its first batch of COVID vaccines - 130,000 doses - through the World Health Organization's COVAX vaccination scheme. Providing some hope in the race against the virus.

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