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COVID-19 and Costa Rica: Economic Challenges in San José

By: Abi Flynn Chamberlain

November 05, 2020

Everyone has felt the effects of COVID-19 this year. Millions have gotten sick with the novel coronavirus. Economically, the world has hit new records of unemployment. Once booming industries like tourism have come screeching to a halt. Small businesses are closing everywhere. Here in Costa Rica, all of these realities are playing out daily before our eyes. As the most populated area, San José and the rest of the central valley have been the country’s hotspot for the virus. This has deterred normal local tourism and shoppers, and caused many small businesses to close. 

Of course, we here at ICADS are adapting to the COVID-19 realties as well. In preparing lectures and course topics for our semester online, we shifted an entire week of study to the economic impacts of the pandemic here in Costa Rica. We met with Doña Dina and her son Celine, who often take ICADS student interns at their bakery and fruit shop during a normal semester. They spoke to us about how they are feeling the effects of the virus, and Celine walked us through the typically busy downtown area, showing us where businesses have closed, “for rent” signs are everywhere, and how the city is seriously economically suffering. As we rounded a corner, we realized that the restaurant we’ve traditionally taken students to every orientation has also closed. Walking through the streets during mid-day on a Thursday felt like walking through San José at nightstorefronts are closed up with the typical metal doors, people are scarce, and traffic is light. It’s impactful. 

Many speak about when we can all “get back to normal”. Of course, for so many, the “normal” before Covid was already challenging and unjust. The virus has exacerbated pre-existing prejudices and xenophobia. And for many, “normal” will never return. Businesses will close and never reopen. Families will fracture through loss and never be the same. The urban landscape of a city like San José will evolve and shift. 

Below, the video resulting from our time with Celine and Doña Dina is part of our course material this semester, which we hope will foment fruitful and relevant discussion during our class time. We hope this video will impact you as well, and give you a clear window into the economic realities of many in Costa Rica today.

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