Peru, with world’s deadliest outbreak, readies to start vaccine tests

By Marco Aquino

LIMA (Reuters) – Peru will start testing coronavirus vaccines from China’s Sinopharm and U.S. drugmaker Johnson & Johnson in September, researchers said, which should help the country gain faster access to inoculations once the vaccines are approved.

Sinopharm began this week to recruit up to 6,000 volunteers in Peru, which Reuters data indicates has the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in relation to its population size. A team of Chinese scientists is expected to arrive in the Andean nation next week to work with local researchers, said Germán Málaga, a doctor and lead vaccine investigator at Lima’s Cayetano Heredia University.

“This is going to happen around Sept. 3, to begin vaccinations on Sept. 8,” he said. Sinopharm’s clinical trials in Peru are being done with Cayetano Heredia and the state-run Universidad Mayor de San Marcos.

Peru has recorded around 622,000 cases of the coronavirus, the fifth highest case load in the world, and 28,277 deaths. It now has the world’s deadliest fatality rate per capita, with 86.67 deaths per 100,000 people, a Reuters tally shows, just ahead of Belgium.

Sinopharm will also do clinical coronavirus vaccine trials elsewhere in Latin America, including in Argentina.

Other Chinese laboratories that will be conducting trials in the region include Sinovac Biotech, which will work in Brazil and Chile, and Walvax Biotechnology Co Ltd and CanSino Biologics Inc, which will test in Mexico, authorities have said.

Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit will start tests with some 4,000 volunteers in Peru around Sept. 24, Prime Minister Walter Martos told reporters on Thursday.

“We are contacting other companies, laboratories, from Britain and other countries that are going to help us immunize at least 70% of the local population,” Martos said.

J&J said earlier this week that it would conduct Phase III trials for its vaccine in Chile, Argentina and Peru.

Peru, a country of nearly 33 million people and the world’s no. 2 copper producer, has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, both in terms of infections and economic impact. The economy crumbled over 30% in the second quarter of the year.

The death toll could also be higher than official figures suggest. A national registry shows that between April and August there were 68,192 more deaths compared to the same period in 2019. Excess deaths often give a better indication of the true number of fatalities.

Researcher Málaga and Carlos Castillo, the chief adviser for immunizations and vaccines at Peru’s health ministry, said that carrying out clinical trials would help Peru get faster access to vaccines when they were ready.

“There is an unwritten agreement, in the sense that in the country where a clinical trial is being carried out, it has priority access to vaccine availability,” Castillo said.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino and Reuters TV; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Rosalba O’Brien)

Venezuelans entering Ecuador illegally receive help to reach Peru

Venezuelan migrant Plaza Pernia family hug as they arrive from the northern city of Tumbes, border with Ecuador, to the bus terminal in Lima, Peru August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

QUITO (Reuters) – Some 250 Venezuelans who illegally entered Ecuador to join tens of thousands fleeing a crisis at home have won safe passage to the Peruvian border, a few days before Peru’s government tightens its migration requirements.

Ecuadorean authorities said on Wednesday they had dispatched buses to take the migrants 840km from the Andean country’s northern border with Colombia to the Huaquillas coastal crossing with Peru.

This year 423,000 Venezuelans have entered Ecuador through the Rumichaca border, many planning to continue south to find work in Peru. Alarmed, Ecuador last Saturday put in place rules requiring Venezuelans to show passports, rather than just national identity cards. Peru will do the same beginning on Saturday.

Hundreds of migrants who began traveling days ago by bus and on foot through Colombia from Venezuela before the policy change crossed the Rumichaca checkpoint on Tuesday. They set out to walk and hitchhike, often in freezing conditions, to Huaquilla.

Maly Aviles, a 26-year-old Venezuelan, spent days on the Ecuador-Colombia border waiting with friends for a solution before the buses arrived.

“There is no way back. To return to Venezuela is suicidal,” she said.

Venezuela’s economy has been in steep decline and there are periodic waves of protests against the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro. Maduro argues that he is the victim of a Washington-led “economic war” designed to sabotage his administration through sanctions and price-gouging.

The chaos has forced many to flood across the borders in search of work, food, and basic healthcare. This has stretched social services, created more competition for low-skilled jobs and stoked fears of increased crime.

The governor of Ecuador’s northern Pichincha province said more transfers would be organized for Venezuelans in the coming days.

“The Venezuelans have taken the decision to head for Peru and in Ecuador we must guarantee their rights. It’s a humanitarian crisis,” he told a local radio station.

(Reporting by Daniel Tapia; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Leslie Adler)

800 Venezuelans flee to Brazil daily to escape insecurity, hunger: UNHCR

Venezuelans line up to cross into Colombia at the border in Paraguachon, Colombia, Feb. 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – More than 800 Venezuelans stream into northern Brazil each day, the United Nations said on Friday, citing Brazilian government statistics on people fleeing the worsening crisis in the economically crippled nation.

More than 52,000 Venezuelans have arrived in Brazil since the start of 2017, including an estimated 40,000 living in Boa Vista, capital of Roraima state, it said.

About 25,000 of the migrants are asylum seekers while 10,000 have obtained temporary resident visas and the rest are seeking to regularize their status, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

“We are stepping up our response in Brazil as the number of Venezuelan arrivals grows,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told a news briefing. “According to the government’s latest estimates, more than 800 Venezuelans are entering Brazil each day.”

Venezuelans have also fled to Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Panama, Argentina and Peru, while others have sought refugee status in the United States, Spain, Mexico and Costa Rica, according to the UNHCR.

President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas is faced with widespread discontent over hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicines during a fifth year of recession that he blames on Western hostility and the fall of oil prices.

Venezuelans report they are fleeing insecurity, violence and often a loss of income, Spindler said. Many are in desperate need of food, shelter and health care.

UNHCR is working with Brazilian authorities to register Venezuelans to ensure they have proper documentation that entitles them to work and access services, Spindler said.

Ten shelters have been opened in Boa Vista, each with 500 people, but some Venezuelans are living on the streets, he said.

Venezuelans willing to relocate from Roraima to other parts of Brazil are being flown to Sao Paulo and Cuiaba this week, as communities and services in Boa Vista are over-stretched, he said.

UNHCR’s $46 million appeal to help Venezuelans across the region is only 4 percent funded, Spindler said, and he called for more donations.

Within Venezuela, the economic crisis has limited people’s access to health services and medicines, World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.

“WHO is working closely with the health authorities in order to fill those shortages. We are providing medicines for malaria and anti-retrovirals. We are equipping maternal hospitals with supplies that are needed for pregnant women and babies.”

Venezuela’s crisis has posed major challenges for governments in the region, who also worry that assistance to Venezuelans could increase the number of people leaving their country.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

What is left when Peru’s flood waters recede

A chair stands in mud at the home of Francisco Coca after rivers breached their banks due to torrential rains, causing flooding and widespread destruction in Carapongo Huachipa, Lima, Peru

By Mariana Bazo

CARAPONGO, Peru (Reuters) – On the outskirts of Lima, hundreds of householders salvage scant belongings in what is left of their homes after the Rimac River burst its banks in recent weeks amid Peru’s worst flooding disaster in decades.

Many of the hardest hit are those who can least afford it – poor Peruvians who built their homes on cheap land near the river, which runs from Peru’s central Andes to the Pacific coast.

Simeona Mosquera contemplates her uncertain future, standing in what once was her front room and is now a ruin of mud and debris.

A children's bike leans against a wall covered in mud after rivers breached their banks due to torrential rains, causing flooding and widespread destruction in Carapongo Huachipa, Lima, Peru,

A children’s bike leans against a wall covered in mud after rivers breached their banks due to torrential rains, causing flooding and widespread destruction in Carapongo Huachipa, Lima, Peru, March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

The 74-year-old market seller fled in the night after a neighbor told her the waters were rising dangerously, but did not think anything would happen to her house.

“When I returned the next day I saw my sofa to one side, part of the house on another side, everything all over the place, everything destroyed,” she says. “I thought, am I dreaming or is this happening?

“I lost my sofas, my bed, my cupboards, my children’s documents … there is nothing left.”

Furniture that can be recovered is perched precariously on parts of brick walls, among the only remnants of nearby homes.

Across Peru, dozens have been killed and tens of thousands displaced after sudden warming of Pacific waters off the coast unleashed torrential downpours in recent weeks. It is part of a localized El Nino phenomenon that is forecast to stretch into April.

In what’s left of Carlos Rojas’ house a pink sign reading ‘Baby Shower’ hangs on a wall, one of the few things not coated with mud. It was for a party a couple of months ago for his baby daughter, the mechanic says. He brushes down a salvaged mattress. Not much else is left.

“All the things that cost me a lot of effort to earn went in no time at all,” say Rojas. “There’s no choice but to start again.”

(Click on http://reut.rs/2o9h1JB to see a related photo essay)

(Writing by Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Abnormal El Nino in Peru unleashes deadly downpours; more flooding seen

Residents do the laundry at a flooded Ramiro Priale highway, after rivers breached their banks due to torrential rains, causing flooding and widespread destruction in Huachipa, Lima, Peru, March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

By Mitra Taj

LIMA (Reuters) – A sudden and abnormal warming of Pacific waters off Peru has unleashed the deadliest downpours in decades, with landslides and raging rivers sweeping away people, clogging highways and destroying crops.

At least 62 people have died and more than 70,000 have become homeless as Peru’s rainy season has delivered 10 times as much rainfall than usual, authorities said Friday.

About half of Peru has been declared in emergency to expedite resources to the hardest hit areas, mostly in the north where rainfall has broken records in several districts, said Prime Minister Fernando Zavala.

Peru is bracing itself for another month of flooding.

A local El Nino phenomenon, the warming of surface sea temperatures in the Pacific, will likely continue along Peru’s northern coast at least through April, said Dimitri Gutierrez, a scientist with Peru’s El Nino committee.

Coastal El Ninos in Peru tend to be preceded by the El Nino phenomenon in the Equatorial Central Pacific, which can trigger flooding and droughts around the world, said Gutierrez. But this year’s event in Peru has developed from local conditions.

The U.S. weather agency has put the chances of an El Nino developing in the second half of 2017 at 50-55 percent.

While precipitation in Peru has not exceeded the powerful El Nino of 1998, more rain is falling in shorter periods of time – rapidly filling streets and rivers, said Jorge Chavez, a general tasked with coordinating the government’s response.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Chavez. “From one moment to the next, sea temperatures rose and winds that keep precipitation from reaching land subsided.”

Some scientists have said climate change will make El Ninos more frequent and intense.

In Peru, apocalyptic scenes recorded on cellphones and shared on social media have broadened the sense of chaos.

A woman caked in mud pulled herself from under a debris-filled river earlier this week after a mudslide rushed through a valley where she was tending to crops.

Bridges have collapsed as rivers have breached their banks, and cows and pigs have turned up on beaches after being carried away by rivers.

“There’s no need to panic, the government knows what it’s doing,” President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said in a televised event, urging people to stay clear of rivers.

In Lima, the capital, classes have been suspended and running water has been restricted after treatment systems were clogged – prompting a rush on bottled water that produced shortages at some supermarkets.

The vast majority of people affected by the extreme weather are poor, including many who built makeshift homes on floodplains that had been dry for 20 years, said Chavez.

“There’s no electricity, no drinking water…no transit because streets are flooded,” said Valentin Fernandez, mayor of the town Nuevo Chimbote.

Chavez said Peru must rethink its infrastructure to prepare for the potential “tropicalization” of the northern desert coast, which some climate models have forecast as temperatures rise.

“We need more and better bridges, we need highways and cities with drainage systems,” said Chavez. “We can’t count on nature being predictable.”

(This story corrects to remove reference in first sentence to extreme weather in Peru being a sign of a potential El Nino; corrects sixth paragraph to show that Gutierrez said local El Ninos in Peru tend to be preceded, not followed by, the global El Nino pattern and that this year’s event in Peru has developed from local conditions)

(Reporting by Mitra Taj; Additional reporting by Reuters TV; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Abnormal El Nino in Peru unleashes deadly downpours; more flooding seen

People cross a flooded street after the Huayco river overflooded its banks sending torrents of mud and water rushing through the streets in Huachipa, Peru, March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

By Mitra Taj

LIMA (Reuters) – A sudden and abnormal warming of Pacific waters off Peru has unleashed the deadliest downpours in decades, with landslides and raging rivers sweeping away people, clogging highways and destroying crops in a potential sign of a global El Nino pattern this year.

At least 62 people have died and more than 70,000 have become homeless as Peru’s rainy season has delivered 10 times as much rainfall than usual, authorities said Friday.

About half of Peru has been declared in emergency to expedite resources to the hardest hit areas, mostly in the north where rainfall has broken records in several districts, said Prime Minister Fernando Zavala.

A woman and a child are evacuated with a zip line after the Huayco river overflooded its banks sending torrents of mud and water rushing through the streets in Huachipa, Peru, March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

A woman and a child are evacuated with a zip line after the Huayco river overflooded its banks sending torrents of mud and water rushing through the streets in Huachipa, Peru, March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

Peru is bracing itself for another month of flooding.

A local El Nino phenomenon, the warming of surface sea temperatures in the Pacific, will likely continue along Peru’s northern coast at least through April, said Dimitri Gutierrez, a scientist with Peru’s El Nino committee.

Local El Ninos in Peru tend to be followed by the global El Nino phenomenon, which can trigger flooding and droughts in different countries, said Gutierrez.

The U.S. weather agency has put the chances of an El Nino developing in the second half of 2017 at 50-55 percent.

While precipitation in Peru has not exceeded the powerful El Nino of 1998, more rain is falling in shorter periods of time – rapidly filling streets and rivers, said Jorge Chavez, a general tasked with coordinating the government’s response.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Chavez. “From one moment to the next, sea temperatures rose and winds that keep precipitation from reaching land subsided.”

Some scientists have said climate change will make El Ninos more frequent and intense.

A woman is assisted while crossing a flooded street after the Huayco river overflooded its banks sending torrents of mud and water rushing through the streets in Huachipa, Peru, March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

A woman is assisted while crossing a flooded street after the Huayco river overflooded its banks sending torrents of mud and water rushing through the streets in Huachipa, Peru, March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

In Peru, apocalyptic scenes recorded on cellphones and shared on social media have broadened the sense of chaos.

A woman caked in mud pulled herself from under a debris-filled river earlier this week after a mudslide rushed through a valley where she was tending to crops.

Bridges have collapsed as rivers have breached their banks, and cows and pigs have turned up on beaches after being carried away by rivers.

“There’s no need to panic, the government knows what it’s doing,” President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said in a televised event, urging people to stay clear of rivers.

In Lima, the capital, classes have been suspended and running water has been restricted after treatment systems were clogged – prompting a rush on bottled water that produced shortages at some supermarkets.

The vast majority of people affected by the extreme weather are poor, including many who built makeshift homes on floodplains that had been dry for 20 years, said Chavez.

“There’s no electricity, no drinking water…no transit because streets are flooded,” said Valentin Fernandez, mayor of the town Nuevo Chimbote.

Chavez said Peru must rethink its infrastructure to prepare for the potential “tropicalization” of the northern desert coast, which some climate models have forecast as temperatures rise.

“We need more and better bridges, we need highways and cities with drainage systems,” said Chavez. “We can’t count on nature being predictable.”

(Reporting by Mitra Taj; Additional reporting by Reuters TV; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Peru to give visas to thousands of crisis-weary Venezuelans

Peru's president in press conference saying venezuelans will get visas

LIMA (Reuters) – Peru has created a temporary visa that will allow thousands of Venezuelans to work and study in the country, part of a migratory policy that aims to “build bridges” and “not walls,” the Andean nation’s interior ministry said.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s government issued 20 temporary visas to Venezuelan migrants in Peru this week. Kuczysnki, a centrist, has expressed concern about shortages of food and medicine in Venezuela, mired in a deep economic crisis.

Some 6,000 Venezuelans are expected to receive the permit, which will allow them to study, work and receive health services in Peru for a year, the interior ministry said late on Thursday.

Peru has enjoyed nearly two decades of uninterrupted economic growth and single-digit inflation, a sharp contrast to socialist-led Venezuela, where the ranks of the poor have swollen in recent years.

“We want to offer a different message on migration than what’s offered in other places. We want to build bridges that unite us and not walls to separate us,” Interior Minister Carlos Basombrio said in a statement.

The comment appeared to be a thinly veiled shot at the new U.S. government, which is traditionally an ally of Peru.

U.S. President Donald Trump has imposed a temporary entry ban on refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, and insisted that Mexico will pay for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to curb illegal immigration.

Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker and free-trade advocate who took office last year, has previously compared Trump’s proposed border wall to the Berlin Wall, and said he would oppose it in the United Nations.

Kuczynski and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said last week that they would stand with Mexico and seek to strengthen regional trade, in the wake of rising tensions between Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Trump.

(Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Paul Simao)

Obama, Putin talk about Syria and Ukraine in quick summit meet

Obama and Putin

LIMA (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin spoke for around four minutes on Sunday at the APEC summit about Syria and Ukraine, in what is likely to be their last in-person meeting before Obama leaves office.

The two men met at the start of the summit meeting in Lima, Peru’s capital. They exchanged pleasantries and remained standing as they spoke.

Obama later said at a news conference he told Putin the U.S. is deeply concerned about bloodshed and chaos in Syria “sown by constant bombing attacks” by the Syrian and Russian militaries, and that a ceasefire and political transition were needed.

“As usual I was candid and courteous but very clear about the strong differences we have on policy,” Obama said.

Putin said at a separate news conference he thanked Obama during Sunday’s meeting in Lima “for the years of joint work”.

“I told him that we would be happy to see him (Obama) in Russia anytime if he wants, can and has desire”, Putin said.

Obama and Putin have had a challenging relationship. The U.S. president said last week he had warned Putin about consequences for cyber attacks attributed to Moscow that were seen as trying to influence the U.S. election.

Obama said he also urged President Putin to help implement the Minsk peace agreement by working with France, Germany, Ukraine and the United States to halt the conflict in Donbass region of Ukraine.

During his race for the White House, Republican President-elect Donald Trump praised Putin. Putin said on Sunday that Trump had confirmed to him that he was willing to mend ties.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk, Caroline Stauffer and Mitra Taj; Editing by Alan Crosby and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Magnitude 5.3 quake in southern Peru kills at least four

LIMA (Reuters) – A 5.3 magnitude earthquake in southern Peru killed at least four people and injured more than two dozen, authorities said on Monday.

At least 40 houses were destroyed by the Sunday quake, the country’s National Civil Defense Institute said on Monday.

The quake, in the Caylloma province of the copper-producing region Arequipa, struck 8 kilometers (5 miles) deep at 9:58 p.m. local time (0258 GMT) on Sunday, the Geophysical Institute of Peru said.

The USGS reported the earthquake as having a 5.4 magnitude.

(Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Bill Trott)

Peru and Brazil rocked by two 7.6 earthquakes

On Tuesday, in a remote, sparsely populated jungle region near the borders of Peru, Brazil and Bolivia, a deep, powerful 7.6 magnitude earthquake shook intensely followed by another 7.6 magnitude quake five minutes later and just miles away.

The United States Geological Survey says that the latter earthquake was almost certainly triggered by the earlier event. Seismologists sometimes refer to a pair of similarly sized earthquakes that occur at nearly the same time and location as an earthquake “doublet.”

According to AccuWeather reports, the quake occurred 107 miles west-northwest of Iberia, Peru, and 423 miles east-northeast of the capital of Lima. The second quake was centered 130 miles south of Tarauaca, Brazil.

Because of the depth of these quakes at 373.2 miles and 380.1 miles, respectively, no tsunami watches or warnings were issued.

The area of these quakes are inhabited by fewer than 1,000 people. No reports of injuries are damage have been reported at this time.