DR1 Daily News - Tuesday, 7 April 2020


May 3, 2000
Monday, 6 April Coronavirus Bulletin #18: 1,828 cases, 86 deaths
Four coronavirus cases reported at La Victoria jail
National Budget director has coronavirus
No Covid-19 confirmed cases yet in Elias Piña and San José de Ocoa provinces
Coronavirus spreads in Haiti
Senate approves extension of State of Emergency, Chamber of Deputies session postponed
Gustavo Montalvo defends government procurement for the coronavirus
Public Health Minister: Stronger measures to be announced this week to fight coronavirus
The grim reality of corpse handling in a pandemic
Edith Febles: Learning from the case of San Francisco de Macoris
All physicians can prescribe diagnostic tests for Covid-19
Schools could officially close the year where they left off
Pedro Luis Castellanos: ARS will cover coronavirus patient hospitalization
Mercado Nuevo reopens at Villas Agricolas site
Lots of fresh produce, difficulties in reaching consumers
Election needs to be held before 16 August
Man survives a fall into the sea inside his vehicle

Monday, 6 April Coronavirus Bulletin #18: 1,828 cases, 86 deaths
Epidemiology (Sinave) Bulletin #18 dated Monday, 6 April 2020 reports on 1, 828 confirmed cases of Covid-19 virus, including 83 new cases. The data covers cases compiled as of 6pm on the previous Sunday, 5 April. The official numbers indicate there have been 86 deaths attributed to the coronavirus pandemic. This is up from 82 on the previous day.

38% of the cases are located in the National District, 15% in Santo Domingo province, 11% in Santiago, 8% in Duarte and 6% in La Vega.

According to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the Dominican Republic is 7th in number of coronavirus cases in Latin America and the Caribbean. The DR is behind Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico and Panama. Likewise, the 1,828 cases reported make the DR the 45th in number of cases in the world.

On most of Monday and early morning of Tuesday, the website of the Ministry of Public Health and access to Bulletin #18 was down.


Four cases reported at La Victoria jail
Public Health Minister Dr. Rafael Sánchez Cárdenas said the coronavirus cases reported at the La Victoria jail were imported by visitors. The jail has a high daily visitation rate with many relatives bringing meals or cooking goods to the inmates. "We had asked the authorities to take measures to avoid visits," said Dr. Sánchez Cárdenas. Some four cases have been reported in the so-called Alaska area of the overpopulated jail. He said stricter measures would now be implemented.


National Budget director has coronavirus
Public Health Minister Dr. Rafael Sánchez Cárdenas announced during the 6 April 2020 coronavirus press briefing that the National Budget director, Luis Reyes, has tested positive for Covid-19. He said the high-ranking government officer is in stable condition.


No Covid-19 confirmed cases yet in Elias Piña and San José de Ocoa provinces
Elías Piña, on the border with Haiti, and San José de Ocoa in the southwest, are the only two provinces in the Dominican Republic without persons tested positive for Covid-19 on the official tally.

The explanation is that the local authorities early on instated roadblocks since the first case of a 62-year old Italian tourist was confirmed on 1 March 2020. That tourist is still in isolation at the Ramón de Lara Hospital in San Isidro Air Base.

As reported, the residents in both Elías Piña and San José de Ocoa have strictly adhered to social distancing measures and backed the closure of the provinces to all who do not regularly live there or are bringing essential supplies or services.

In San José de Ocoa, the residents have adhered to the rule: "No one in, no one out." "We regret any inconvenience we may cause; all the measures are taken for the well-being of the population," warns re-elected mayor Aneudy Ortiz Sajiun, one of the most popular at the national level. He has personally inspected the closures at the entrances to San José de Ocoa, a measure that has been very effective so far in keeping the virus out of the area.

The authorities in San José de Ocoa were among the first to disinfect the vehicles authorized in. Civil Defense and the Municipal Police of Sabana Larga, with its mayor Juan Antonio Castillo, have also been active in keeping out the virus. The mayor points to the respect of the curfew and other hygiene measures by the population of Ocoa.

Elias Piña is the most impoverished Dominican province. It is also on the border with Haiti. There some 44% of the people have no health insurance.

Experts say it is just a matter of time for the wave to reach these provinces, but so far so good.

As of this Monday, 6 April 2020, the Ministry of Public Health reported the Dominican Republic has 86 deaths from Covid-19, while confirmed cases total 1,828 and 33 have been recovered.


Coronavirus spreads in Haiti
The Ministry of Public Health in Haiti reported on that country's first death on 5 April 2020. It is a 55-year old man who had suffered from diabetes and hypertension. As of 6 April 2020 there were 24 confirmed cases in Haiti. The Haitian health authorities report that country has entered a phase of community transmission.


Senate approves extension of State of Emergency, Chamber of Deputies session postponed
The Senate approved on Monday, 6 April to extend the State of Emergency through 8 May. 20 of 22 senators present signed a 25-day extension for the State of Emergency for the Medina administration. This would bring it to 8 May 2020.

Two opposition senators representing the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) abstained from voting. Senator Jose Ignacio Paliza (PRM-Puerto Plata) had requested that the extension be for 16 days, through 30 April instead of 8 May. He requested that the government comply with the requirement of submitting to a bi-chamber committee information on procurement for the emergency situation before the purchase order is placed and after the supplier is chosen.

Likewise, Senator Paliza proposed that the Dominican representative to Transparency International, the civic watchdog organization, Citizen Participation, be included in the oversight committee for government procurement. This motion received the backing of only seven of 22 senators. The ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) is majority in the Senate. Contracting approved by the National Health Service (SNS) has been widely criticized for overpricing.

The motion for extending the state of emergency would have passed to the Chamber of Deputies for approval on Tuesday, 7 April. Yet on Sunday, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Radhamés Camacho (PLD-Santo Domingo) canceled the session. On Monday afternoon, it was known that Camacho had tested positive with the coronavirus. There is no date for the Chamber of Deputies session. The present emergency state was declared effective 19 March and will expire on 13 April 2020.

Second in command at the Chamber of Deputies is Angela Pozo, also of the ruling PLD. Pozo is running for senator for the province of Valverde. She usually sits beside Camacho during the sessions. She recently said that her daughter had tested positive for the virus. She has not said whether she, too, is infected, as reported in Listin Diario.

Gustavo Montalvo defends government procurement for the coronavirus
The coordinator of the High Commission for the Prevention of Coronavirus, Presidency Minister Gustavo Montalvo defended government purchases for the pandemic in the Dominican Republic in his televised message on the evening of Monday, 6 April 2020. Widespread criticism surged after news was leaked on irregularities in government procurement of supplies for the medical emergency. The focus was mainly on the government awarding a RD$1.5 billion contract to a company with a registered capital of RD$100,000 and whose directors are the accountant and a chauffeur. Montalvo said the contract was canceled when the company did not deliver the goods on time.

In his defense of government procurement for the coronavirus, Montalvo said that the government is competing for the same supplies with other governments around the world and this explains the overpricing. "There have been allegations made against the contracting, but these are unfounded," he said. "The circumstances are difficult," he said. Montalvo said that the accusations had been made without proof. A dozen investigative journalists have presented evidence of the overpricing and other irregularities in the procurement contracts benefiting primarily Tools Resources Enterprises Toreen SRL. The company is not a regular supplier to the medical sector and is only known for having supplied the medical equipping in the case of the remodeling of the La Vega public hospital.

Montalvo said that the government had canceled RD$2.72 billion in contracting for lack of timely delivery of the goods. He said the National Health Service (SNS) has only disbursed RD$143 million for equipping and supplies for the management of the health crisis after the state of emergency was called.

He announced that the government ProConsumidor consumer protection agency was reviewing pricing lists. He also mentioned the Medina administration had named an oversight committee for these purchases. "At these times of emergency, the people can trust their institutions," said Montalvo.

Diario Libre editorialized on 7 April 2020 that the oversight committee can merely act as an observer and is "worthless" in regards to procurement procedures. Editorial writer Ines Aizpun stated: "What hurts is that this type of crime is treated with the disregard with which gossip is handled and that no direct legal action is taken. Actions are so timid. Corruption is what has condemned the PLD to the bad numbers it has today. And the party is wasting every opportunity to amend its image."

In a separate editorial, Diario Libre points out that the present procurement system oozes irregularities. The editorialist makes the point that while the intention is to show there have been many companies participating in a bid, due to the lack of controls, many companies owned by the same person or groups could be bidding.

In an advertisement in local media on 6 April 2020, the opposition party Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) indicated that there is evidence of RD$1 billion of overpricing in the recent RD$1.5 billion contract for emergency medical supplies.

The party criticized the fact that the government had been negligent in carrying out widespread diagnostic testing, preparing temporary hospitals, installing obligatory isolation recommended by the Dominican Medical Association (CMD) and carrying out procurement of equipment and supplies with transparency.


Public Health Minister: Stronger measures to be announced this week to fight coronavirus
During the coronavirus briefing on 6 April 2020, the Public Health Minister, Dr. Rafael Sanchez Cardenas, said that stronger measures could be instated in other provinces in addition to Duarte province, and its capital San Francisco de Macoris. He said these would not be simultaneous but would be progressive. "The geography of each province is different, and we are taking that into account," he said. "There is a plan for stronger measures." "We are headed in that direction this week," he said.

So far there is community transmission in the National District, Santo Domingo province, Santiago, Duarte and La Vega provinces.


The grim reality of corpse-handling in a pandemic
Public Health Minister Rafael Sánchez Cárdenas said in the 6 April daily press briefing that special ambulances are been designated to pick up corpses of people who have died at home. At hospitals, special body bags are available, not so for those who die at home. Social media carried the case of a corpse that was left at the side of a road in San José de las Matas, when relatives could not secure funeral services from the regular companies.

Dr. Sánchez Cárdenas says that the protocol is that there is a six-hour span in which the person should be tested. If this is not accomplished, the death statement will indicate "probable coronavirus" death. He said the person should be included in the official statistics as a coronavirus victim.


Edith Febles: Learning from the case of San Francisco de Macoris
Lack of diagnostic tests, only hospitalizing seriously ill patients, and lack of government support are among the reasons cited for the expansion of the coronavirus in the northeastern capital of Duarte province out of proportion with what has happened in the rest of the country. While the government says the virus in San Francisco de Macoris is under control, the people in the town say actions are too little and do not trust the authorities and think the authorities are not keeping track of the real situation. Investigative journalist Edith Febles interviewed several in the town for her "Things as They are" ("La Cosa Como Es") radio and TV show.

She asked Dr. Ramón Mena, a gynecologist at the Siglo 21, the leading private clinic in San Francisco de Macorís, for an overview of what is happening in San Francisco that could serve as lessons for other provinces that may be engulfed by the Covid-19 wave. San Francisco de Macoris was the first town to suffer from community spread of Covid-19 in the Dominican Republic.

Dr. Mena is frustrated that there have been long waiting lists for people to be tested. He said patients have been only hospitalized after they are in serious or critical condition. Many have died when in the emergency rooms in the city.

The San Francisco de Macoris physician said the error of waiting for the test to care for patients continues to be made in the province. "We cannot wait to have a test to manage the cases. We have to start to manage the cases depending on the clinical observations," he said. Because of the lack of tests, many suspected patients were sent home. When they came back to the clinic, it was too late to save them.

More so, he said the medical system in San Francisco de Macoris was caught unaware and overwhelmed. He said it is necessary to protect all the medical staff, not just those working with Covid-19 patients, because the disease is asymptomatic and can be spread in all areas of a medical center.

He criticized that the government is being selective about who is assigned to offer care and what is being done to improve medical care in San Francisco de Macoris. He said his clinic could be carrying out the diagnostic tests if the government had offered them support. Instead, the test analyses have been allocated to Santo Domingo labs.

He said the new government-built facility with capacity for 60 intensive care unit patients was not going to be enough. He recommended the government back up the present medical installations. He said the government needs to accept all the help it can get from the private sector.

Dr. Mena said the disease spread so fast in San Francisco because people did not understand what social isolation meant. He said two more difficult weeks are expected before the curve flattens in the best of scenarios. He said still too few diagnostic tests are being carried out. He said he personally has 22 persons hospitalized and of these, 60% have not been able to be tested. He said there is neither any epidemiological follow-up in the city.

Also interviewed for the Edith Febles TV and radio program on TeleRadio America, Genesis Mendez, who is digital platform director for Telenord, said there is an under registration of the cases in San Francisco. He mentioned the death of the wife of the governor of Duarte province on the day after the death of the governor. The wife is not included in the 24 death cases registered at the time for the city. He said he had 10 death declarations that were not included despite these registering coronavirus as a probable cause.

Priest Ramón Alejo Cruz (Padre Moncho), the popular San Francisco de Macoris priest, observed the tragedy has united the city. "It is proven that we can make a new San Francisco," he remarked.

Actress and Dominicana's Got Talent host Nashla Bogaert urged that the other towns in the country not to wait for the community spread phase to begin implementing strong preventive measures. She urged the population to take the coronavirus seriously and stay home to contribute to ending the spread of the virus. "Let us not wait for the tragedy to affect someone close to us to realize it is real," she said. "We cannot feel we are invulnerable," she said. "There are too many people that keep going out, thinking nothing is going to happen to them."


All physicians can prescribe diagnostic tests for Covid-19
Public Health Minister Sánchez Cárdenas announced in a press briefing on 6 April 2020 that all medics with permission to practice medicine in the Dominican Republic are now authorized to prescribe diagnostic tests for the Covid-19 virus. Previously, the lab test required that an epidemiologist, infectologist, internist or pneumologist write the prescription.


Schools could officially close the year where they left off
It is up to the National Education Council to decide what to do with the school year in the Dominican Republic. The Ministry of Education has rolled out virtual education programs. Many private schools are also continuing with classes online. But the reality is that hundreds of thousands of students do not have regular access to these lessons.

Education Minister Antonio Peña Mirabal says that the Council is discussing several options. He mentioned the possibility that the year be closed even when only 70% of the course load has been covered. Students would be assessed based on how they had done until the schools' shutdown in the first half of March. The remaining 30% would be covered at the start of the next school year.

Peña Mirabal acknowledged many schools have been able to continue classes online using the government platform, but this is not the reality for most. This year 30,000 laptops were distributed to public school students around the country.


Pedro Luis Castellanos: ARS will cover coronavirus patient hospitalization
Medical plans will cover hospital room costs and physician fees as of 1 April 2020 in the Dominican Republic. The coverage includes those in intensive care units. Previously, patients had to cover the cost of hospitalization that is more commonly weeks not days.

An agreement was recently reached with the private clinics association (Andeclip) and private health providers (ARS). Pedro Luis Castellanos Castellanos, the director of the Superintendence of Health and Labor Risks (Sisalril), said this could put an end to the private clinics not accepting Covid-19 patients, despite such refusal being against the law. Castellanos said many clinics had rejected the patients arguing they were full or did not have the adequate protection to deal with these cases.

Castellanos spoke interviewed by Diana Lora and Patricia Solano for La Cuestion radio talk show on 6 April 2020.

As per the agreement, the medical insurance coverage is extended to health care workers that have caught the disease while on the job.

Castellanos said that he expects that large quasi-government institutions, such as Plaza de la Salud and Cedimat, are likely to accept the health plan coverage agreement. "The idea is to expand the services to all those who need them." He said even the most basic of health plans are covered by the recent agreement.


Mercado Nuevo reopens at Villas Agricolas site
The city government of the National District announced the reopening of the Mercado Nuevo fresh produce market on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 6am to 1pm. Buyers and sellers need to use face masks and gloves to enter the market. New access roads are being used. Vehicles are only allowed to access by way of Calle Respaldo Maria Montes. There is pedestrian access by the Av. Duarte, Av. de los Martires and Av. de Reyes Católicos. The entrance of the public is limited.


Lots of fresh produce, difficulties in reaching consumers
The president of the National Confederation of Farm Producers (Confenagro), Eric Rivero says farms are having trouble in placing their produce. There is concern millions in produce will be damaged after the normal channels have been disrupted.

Farms around the country have lost millions in orders by resorts and hotels around the country that shutdown after flights to the country were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Agriculture Minister Omar Benítez estimates that the tourism sector (hotels and restaurants) had purchased US$600 million in produce from local producers. These orders have been canceled as of March 2020.

Benítez said that the recent decision by the mayors of Santo Domingo and Santiago to limit the buying time at city markets is also a major blow to suppliers. Demand is also down at supermarkets and colmados due to restrictions imposed on customers during the pandemic.


Election needs to be held before 16 August
Carlos Pimentel, executive director of the civic watchdog group, Citizen Participation (Participacion Ciudadana) says the Covid-19 outbreak makes it impossible to hold the election on 17 May 2020. He says the pandemic has affected numerous preparatory activities on the electoral calendar. He made the observation when interviewed by Diana Lora and Patricia Solano for La Cuestion radio talk show.

He said the Central Electoral Board (JCE) needs to coordinate events that require the physical presence of people. And the JCE needs to guarantee the safety of those that will be working at the more than 16,000 polling stations. He explained that in these times of social isolation it has been impossible to coordinate these activities.

Pimentel pointed to the difficulties in carrying out the election in New York City that is now suffering the full impact of the coronavirus. An estimated 400,000 Dominicans are eligible to vote in New York City.

He explained that the JCE has the legal right to postpone the election in consensus with the political parties. On Friday, 3 April 2020, the JCE sent out consultations to political parties. These were given five days to issue their opinions regarding the postponement.

Carlos Pimentel said that they are proposing that a first round vote be held on 12 July, and a second round vote, if necessary, to be held on 26 July. This would give sufficient time for the new authorities to be sworn in on the date established in the Constitution, that is 16 August.

Moreover, Pimentel said they are proposing that all political campaigning be suspended in order to concentrate on the pandemic. The campaign would be resumed from 14 June to 10 July. If a second-round election is needed, the campaign would take place from 14 July to 24 July.

Pimentel said the country is fortunate that the electoral regime establishes a very long transition period (from 17 May to 16 August). "This time it works in our favor and allows for rescheduling," he said.

He said that while the 2015 Constitution establishes that presidential and congressional election will be held on 17 May, there is no need to reform the Constitution to call an extraordinary election. Pimentel clarified that the electoral regime law allows for a political agreement and political party consensus for the holding of an extraordinary election due to force majeure causes.

Pimentel said this is a decision that needs to be taken this week so that the country can concentrate on saving lives.


Man survives fall into the sea inside his vehicle
41-year old Joel Bladimir Fragoso miraculously escaped with his life after his car left the road and plunged into the Caribbean Sea at around Km. 14 of the Las Americas Expressway. He was able to break the glass window and get out in time. He called for help and was rescued. Rescue units threw him a rope and brought him up the cliff.

Fragoso explained he lost control when a tire blew out. According to the authorities, the driver was speeding when he lost control. He was driving a grey Hyundai. A 911 Ambulance took him to the Dario Contreras Trauma Hospital to cure the wounds on his hands.