Severity: Critical Alert

Entry/Exit: El Salvador extends emergency orders through at least mid-June to curb spread of COVID-19, and amends movement restrictions 17-21 May.

This alert affects El Salvador

This alert began 17 May 2020 15:39 GMT and is scheduled to expire 21 May 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: COVID-19 restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Significant transport and business disruptions, increased security

President Nayib Bukele and his council of ministers announced a controversial 30-day extension of the existing state of emergency order, which expired 2359 May 16, to curb the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). This extension has not been approved by the legislature; however, Bukele has argued that the executive branch is legally permitted to issue a national emergency if the congress does not meet. The government has also amended its special quarantine orders, which extend through at least May 21.

Authorities have not officially announced any changes to the current associated nationwide quarantine, which will likely continue to be enforced through at least May 19, with a possibility of a further extension. The 24-hour quarantine allows residents to leave their homes only to obtain basic goods, to care for a person in need, to attend a medical issue, or to go to work at an essential business or service. The special quarantine order, which places stricter restrictions on movements, allowing only one person per household to purchase basic goods according to the last digit of their Unique Identity Document (DUI) or passport, will remain in effect through May 21. However, the DUI schedule has been revised as of May 17 as follows:

  • May 17: Last digit is 5 or 6
  • May 18: Last digit is 7, 8, or 9
  • May 19: Last digit is 0, 1, or 2
  • May 20: Last digit is 3 or 4
  • May 21: Last digit is 5 or 6

Police, military personnel, and health workers are exempt from the DUI movement restrictions. Medical call centers will be opened to attend to medical emergencies and persons who need to purchase medicine outside of their designated DUI shopping day. Private movement is only permitted within the municipality of an individual's residence. Public transportation and taxi services are also suspended during this period; public transport will only be available for health personnel. Other existing measures remain in place. Persons 60 years of age or older, pregnant women, and people with health difficulties must remain in self-quarantine. If authorities find a person breaking the measures, they can screen the person's health and place them in a 30-day quarantine. If someone is driving a vehicle without authorization, authorities may confiscate the vehicle. Health officials will have the right to enter a person's home or business to asses health conditions and preventative measures to combat COVID-19.

Among the essential businesses and services that can remain open are those related to food production, distribution, and sales; utilities such as water and electricity; pharmacies and drug companies; banks; and companies whose products are necessary for the health emergency. Law enforcement agents and media personnel, as well as essential government workers, can also continue working. Restaurants can operate exclusively via delivery and carry-out service. The government has also relaxed restrictions on fishing and other agricultural and farming activities. All essential workers must carry proper identification on the streets, and any person must wear a protective facemask outside of their home.

Officials continue to enforce the closure of all ports of entry to nonresident foreign nationals. Only Salvadorans, legal foreign residents, and accredited diplomats are permitted to enter the country. Any person entering the country will be screened by health officials to determine if they must remain in self-quarantine. El Salvador International Airport (SAL) has suspended passenger flights. Air and land cargo transportation and humanitarian flights and vessels are not affected by the restrictions.

The restrictions will continue to have a significant impact on business and transport in the country. Authorities will likely keep an increased police presence deployed to enforce the restrictions. All restrictions are subject to amendment at short notice.

Background and Analysis
The measures adopted by the government of El Salvador correspond with similar actions taken by other governments in response to the spread of COVID-19. On March 11, the WHO declared the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Some opposition deputies and human rights activists have argued that in bypassing the legislature, the latest extension of the state of emergency by the executive is unconstitutional. Noting this, the status of the state of emergency could change at short notice, depending on legal proceedings. Bukele's perceived heavy-handed approach to handling the COVID-19 outbreak has already caused increased political tensions with the legislature, as well as the Supreme Court, particularly over Bukele's defiance of orders relating to the protection of human rights and the detention of individuals under the quarantine. Further confrontations between the different branches of the government could result in major political instability in the near-term, especially under the compounded stresses of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated economic impacts.

Strictly heed the instructions of authorities. Avoid all nonessential operations in the areas impacted by the measures. Confirm appointments. Remain courteous and cooperative if approached and questioned by law enforcement officers.

Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.

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