Costa Rica announced on Wednesday a transition toward a “controlled opening” of economic activities, amid a strong wave of COVID-19 infections.
President Carlos Alvarado specified that the so-called transition period will occur from August 31 to September 8, followed by a controlled opening until September 30.
The transition “consists of deepening a model that balances people’s health and lives, and the economy and employment,” the president said at a press conference.
Between August 31 and September 8, many commercial establishments will be able to operate with a maximum capacity of 50%, but some businesses in designated “Orange Alert” cantons will have to remain closed.
As of September 9, nearly all businesses will be allowed to operate nationwide — including cinemas, theaters and religious centers, with controlled capacity to ensure distance.
Alvarado clarified that the measures could be reversed in the event of a severe increase in COVID-19 infections.
At the same press conference, the Minister of Health, Daniel Salas, announced that the country of 5 million inhabitants reached 36,307 cases of COVID-19 with 386 deaths.
The opening coincides with growing pressure from the business sectors and small businesses to have more permission to function, in the face of the economic blow from the pandemic.
The pandemic restrictions have triggered a sharp increase in unemployment. The latest official figures indicate unemployment rose to 24% in the April-June quarter.
The country also began a gradual opening to foreign tourism in August. This will be expanded in September with the authorization to receive flights from the United States.
According to Alvarado, the opening is possible due to the increase in hospital capacity, especially the increase in the number of beds in the intensive care units (ICU) of public hospitals.
In March, when the first cases of COVID-19 were detected, Costa Rica had 197 ICU beds, 24 of them for those infected with the coronavirus. There are currently 214 units for COVID-19 patients, and the number will rise to 287 in September, Alvarado said.