Dominican Republic as the First of Many in the Region

COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 32

First in total cases and mortality rate in the Caribbean

As of January 25, 2021, the Dominican Republic reported a total of 203,943 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 2,513 deaths based on the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the Ministry of Public Health of the Dominican Republic, and the World Health Organization.

During the second half of 2020 and beginning of 2021, the Dominican Republic experienced two upsurges of COVID-19 cases. The first one, in the month of July 2020 coinciding with the electoral campaign. The second, during the December 2020 holidays. On January 06, 2021, the country reported 2518 cases, the highest number of confirmed cases per day since the beginning of the pandemic. Furthermore, the latest data from the Ministry of Public Health reflect a change in the type of population affected by the coronavirus. The number of people under 20 years old infected by the coronavirus increased to a total of 18,547 cases, as well as the number of pregnant women who acquired the virus increased to 309. To date the Dominican Republic has the highest incidence of cases, and the highest overall mortality rate in the Caribbean.

First confirmed case in the Caribbean

On March 2, 2020, the Dominican Republic reported the first 5 confirmed cases in the country. These are the earliest reported cases of COVID-19 for the Greater Antilles. Immediately afterwards, the Congress of the Dominican Republic invoked article 265 of the Constitution (2015), declared the State of Emergency and granted the President of the Republic, at the time Danilo Medina, exceptional powers to address the actions required to control the pandemic in the country. From July 2020 to date, the President of the Republic has invoked 5 times the state of emergency or extended these powers for additional 45 days. The most recent extension of the powers was declared on January 8, 2021, by Decree No. 6-21.

Protocols and preventive measures adopted by the government nationwide during the first half of 2020 included restrictions of entry into the country of any travelers, limitation of flights, social distancing, quarantine, working and staying at home for public employees over 60 years of age. Furthermore, flexible work schedule for all public employees, suspension of sporting and social events, prohibition of interurban bus circulation, and mandatory use of a mask were among the expansive preventive measures.

First presidential elections in times of a pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean

The Dominican Republic became the first country in Latin America and the Caribbean to hold a general election during a pandemic. Elections in the Dominican Republic are held every four years on the third Sunday of the month of May. As the year 2020 was supposed to be an election year, elections were initially planned for May 17, 2020. However, the scrutiny had to be postponed for a month due to the pandemic and the Central Electoral Board (Junta Central Electoral, JCE in Spanish) gave its consent with resolution no. 42-2020, April 13, 2020.

The Dominican Republic has no early voting or voting by mail mechanism. Usually, citizens cast their vote in person. Even though the government took preventive hygienic measures during the electoral campaigns and the day of the elections, abstentionism in the recent presidential election increased 14 points compared to the previous one, 44.71%.  

The candidate of the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM), Luis Abinader obtained 53% of the votes cast. Most experts agree that the vote reflects the rejection and dissatisfaction with the previous ruling party due to the high level of corruption.

On July 5, 2021, Luis Rafael Abinader, candidate of the government opposing party, the Modern Revolutionary Party (PLM) was proclaimed President of the Dominican Republic and sworn into office on August 16, 2021. With President Abinader, 16 years of continued governance of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) ended. The new president continued the social assistance programs promoted by his predecessor for employees and independent workers and announced a stimulus package of 1,694 million dollars to assist different economic sectors badly hit during the pandemic.

First approved vaccine agreement in the Caribbean

The Dominican government signed agreements with three pharmaceutical companies for the acquisition of 20 million of doses of the vaccine.  These are AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Covax.  Although the government announced that the vaccines will arrive on March 2021, there is no certain date as when the vaccines will begin to be distributed among the population. The national government is also requesting support from the international community in order to purchase more vaccine doses as well as to distribute vaccines throughout the entire country.

Despite criticism on the slow pace to even begin a vaccination process, Dominican Republic was the first Caribbean nation to approve a vaccine. AstraZeneca was approved in the country on December 31, 2020.

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By Marisol Floren

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