Haiti Street Vendors Have Little Knowledge of Looming Coronavirus Dangers

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WASHINGTON/PORT-AU-PRINCE – Vendors at the busy Croix-des-Bossales market in downtown Port-au-Prince have not heard much about the coronavirus pandemic that is currently sweeping the world.   

VOA Creole found Monday that half of the vendors were busy trying to make ends meet and had no knowledge or incorrect information about the virus.  
 
“I haven’t heard about it. I only came back to the capital yesterday,” a female vendor told VOA. “I do have a radio at home, but it’s not working.”  
 
“I heard it’s people who eat mice who have this disease,” a vendor in her 20s told VOA. “People who eat rats. I heard coronavirus is killing people, but I have no idea whether it’s here in Haiti.”   
 
Farther down the row of merchants, another female vendor had more accurate information.

Potato vendors wait for customers  at the Croix-dèz-Beausalles open air market in downtown Port au Prince. (VOA Creole/Matiado Vilme)
Potato vendors wait for customers at the Croix-dèz-Beausalles open air market in downtown Port au Prince. (VOA Creole/Matiado Vilme)

“I heard that corona is a virus that we should avoid. We should wash our hands, but that’s all I know,” she said.  “But I did hear someone say it originated with white people who eat cockroaches, rats and mice — that’s what I heard on the street.”  
 
A male vendor in his 40s knew that COVID-19 has infected people worldwide. 
 
“I don’t know much else about it,” he said, “because I’m still waiting to hear what the experts have to tell us.”  
 
Another vendor told VOA she believes drinking moonshine can keep the virus at bay.  
 
“I heard the virus doesn’t like hot climates nor strong alcohol, so that’s our protection,” she said. 

Among vendors who had some knowledge of the virus and the precautions they can take to keep it from spreading, several admitted the advice wasn’t easy to follow.   
 
“They told us we shouldn’t touch our faces, but after moving merchandise, sometimes we sweat, and out of habit, we wipe our forehead (with our hand),” a woman said. “How are we supposed to avoid doing that?”  
 
A vendor selling rice and beans said she washes her hands often, but noted that her clients may or may not do the same. 
 
“When a person is hungry, they may not remember to wash their hands before they come to my stand to buy food. All they can think of is eating,” she said.  
 
A male vendor said he was praying for God’s protection. As for social distancing, he said Haitians will never stop kissing each other when they meet. 
 
“We poor people are used to bacteria, so it doesn’t kill us,” he said, adding that he will say an extra prayer to remain healthy as he continues to greet his friends with kisses. 

The Croix-des-Beausalles open air market is one of Port au Prince’s busiest. (VOA Creole/Matiado Vilme)
The Croix-des-Beausalles open air market is one of Port au Prince’s busiest. (VOA Creole/Matiado Vilme)

Haiti has no confirmed cases of COVID-19 and is working to keep it that way, through nationwide information campaigns, public service announcements on radio and television, and daily press briefings. 
 
Over the weekend, the National Federation of Haitian Mayors announced a nationwide campaign in the country’s 10 departments to inform people about the pandemic.  

On Sunday, Interior Minister Audin Bernadel Fils announced he would go downtown Monday evening, accompanied by members of the police force and Justice Ministry officials, to shut down roadside merchant stands.   
 
“We will close them, because coronavirus is not a ghost, it’s not fake news, it’s real,” he said. “We have been fortunate not to have any cases yet, and we intend to keep it that way as long as we can.”  
 
Monday at midnight, Haiti is shutting its border with the Dominican Republic, where the coronavirus has sickened 11 people.  An exception is being made for merchandise coming across the border, which will be required to undergo screening both in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti immediately after entering the country.   
 
Haiti has also stepped up patrols of its maritime borders and has suspended air travel from Europe and Latin America.  Air travel between Haiti and the United States has not yet been halted but is currently under review, according to Prime Minister Jouthe Joseph.

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