COVID Spreading Fast Across Cusco

The Cusco region is easily the leading tourist destination in Peru and one of the top destinations in South America and the world largely because of Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is spreading at an incredible rate faster than at any time in the past seven months with no signs of slowing down.

As of this morning’s report from Cusco’s Health Directorate (Diresa), the positivity rate of testing is 31.1% over the past week meaning nearly 1 in 3 people has tested positive. (I’ve seen posts that claim that antigen tests cannot identify the Omicron variant which is probably the dominant variant in Cusco and Peru. That is completely false.)

Hospitalizations are predictably rising, but as is the case everywhere else, are not going up at anywhere near the same rate and are primarily people with one or zero vaccine doses. The number of COVID-related deaths so far remains about the same as last month.

Yesterday the Regional Government released data on vaccination rates in districts — Peru’s name for municipalities or towns/cities — across the region. I was surprised to see just how high were the rates in the central districts of what most consider the city of Cusco. All were over 80% of people over the age of 12 having received at lease two doses of vaccines. The largest district of Wanchaq has reached 86.6% with the central district of Cusco has reached 84.1%.

It’s been noticeable in the last week how people in the Cusco province — what most people consider the “city” of Cusco — are almost universally wearing masks again. Not surprisingly, the number of foreign tourists ignoring rules about mas wearing continues to remain very, very high.

Also not surprising, in the Sacred Valley where there is a large proportion of foreign residents and long-term tourists, not a single district has reached that 80% threshold.

I thought it very surprisingly that, when I visited Machu Picchu last week, workers were completely ignoring visitors without masks. I also traveled on the “Local Train” for the first time in nearly two years and observed that mask and face shield rules were also not being enforced, though I didn’t see a single Peruvian who was not wearing a mask during the trip in both directions.

In addition, proof of vaccination as required to board was not checked either to enter the Ollantaytambo station or by PeruRail workers when boarding the trains. However, I was asked to show proof when entering the Machupicchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes) train station.

Very few, if any, businesses in Cusco bother to check for proof of vaccination now. The few that I’ve seen do it are obviously not really checking as no matching ID is required and they are obviously not even looking at the document. (I’ve shown a print-out folded over so that they cannot even see that I have two doses — I actually have received three Pfizer doses — and not one place has asked to see the other side.)

Sadly, some business owners in the central tourist area have told me that it’s easier to ignore the rules than deal with arrogant, irate tourists who think that following the rules of the country they are visiting is too much to ask.

If Peru intends to make a difference in the reducing the massive spread of COVID that is currently happening then it has to start enforcing rules instead of just making up new ones that are meaningless without enforcement.

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