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Since December 2019, Coronavirus (COVID-19), a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has been spreading worldwide, affecting the lives and wellbeing of millions of people around the world. The first case of COVID 19 in Costa Rica was confirmed on March 6, 2020, and the virus has been circulating in the country ever since.

In mid-March, as countries around the world closed their borders and encouraged their citizens to go into self-isolation, we flew back to our home base in Playa Avellanas, Costa Rica and have been watching the situation with coronavirus in Costa Rica unfold from the safety of Max’s family home.

COVID 19 in Costa Rica

Since the beginning of COVID 19 pandemic in Costa Rica, the local government has taken a very fast and proactive role in managing COVID 19 in the country. They closed schools, prohibited mass gatherings, shut all non-essential businesses, and closed the borders within just 10 days of the first case being confirmed in the country. 

A few months into the pandemic, Costa Rica has been praised for being one of the most successful nations in the fight against Coronavirus. The country had the lowest death rate in all of Latin America and has been one of the most successful at flattening the curve. 

However, since the start of the reopening, new daily cases in Costa Rica have been going up. In June, the country officially entered the second wave of the pandemic. On August 1st, Costa Rica began opening to international tourists.

The Stats

As of September 24, 2020, Costa Rica has reported the following COVID 19 statistics:

  • 69,459 confirmed cases, of whom 56,381 are Costa Rican and 13,078 foreigners
  • 795 deaths
  • 26,554 total recoveries
  • 42,110 known active cases
  • 213,404 completed tests

For the most up to date information on the number of cases, you can visit the Ministry of Health Facebook

COVID 19 in Costa Rica: Current Situation

Costa Rica’s reopening plan was laid out by the government in May. 

Phase 2 commenced on June 1
Phase 3 commenced on June 27 (one week behind the original schedule laid out below). This does not apply to the entire country. See the below map for exceptions. 
Phase 4 scheduled to commence August 22-30

September Controlled Reopening

Controlled reopening is taking place over across the country in both Orange and Yellow zones. 

August 31 – September 8, 2020: Transition phrase for most businesses in the Orange zone to reopen.
September 9 – September 30, 2020: Controlled re-opening phase of establishments. Most businesses (except those will mass concentrations of people) are permitted to operate Monday to Friday from 5:00 to 10:00 pm, on Saturday from 10:00 to 10:00 pm and on Sunday from 5:00 to 8:00 pm, with 50% capacity. Read the Official Plan here

covid in costa rica

Degrees of Reopening

The below map outlines the different alert levels across the country as of September 9, 2020. 

Orange Alert – applies to the cantons with increased COVID 19 activity. Economic activity is subject to the September transition area.

Yellow Alert – applies to the majority of the country. Details below.

Costa Rica covid
Areas of Orange and Yellow Alerts as of September 8, 2020.
Covid in Costa Rica
Areas of Orange and Yellow Alerts as of September 8, 2020.

What’s Opened/Allowed? 

As of  September 9, 2020, the following activities and services are opened and allowed in all areas across the country with reduced hours. Most businesses are permitted to operate from 5:00 am to 10:00 pm on weekdays, on Saturday from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm and on Sunday from 5:00 am to 8:00 pm. 

  • All hotels, including on weekends. Hotels can operate at 100% occupancy but must have 50% occupancy in the common areas. 
  • All restaurants (at 50% capacity), including on weekends.
  • Beaches opened every day from 5:00 am to 2:30 pm.
  • Most National Parks across the country are opened and operating at 50% capacity, although not all attractions or sectors at these parks have reopened. Opened National Parks include:
    • Irazú Volcano, Poás Volcano, Guayabo, Braulio Carrillo, Carara, Corcovado, Manuel Antonio, Cahuita, Arenal, Rincón de la Vieja, Los Quetzales, Tapantí, and Monteverde (opened on May 18th)
    • Santa Rosa, Tortuguero, Tenorio, Isla del Coco, Barra Honda, Diriá, Las Baulas, Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, Cipanci Wildlife Refuge, Ostional Wildlife Refuge, Camaronal Wildlife Refuge, Iguanita Wildlife Refuge, Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve, Grecia Forest Reserve (Bosque del Niño), Monte Alto Protected Zone (opened on June 1st). 
  • Museums, art academies, gyms, swim schools are opened (at 50% capacity)
  • Bars continue to be closed.
  • Commercial centres and most stores can now operate both during the week and on the weekend at 50% capacity.
  • Beauty salons, barbershops (at 50% capacity). 
  • All open-air tourism activities are permitted (ziplining, hiking tours etc.)
  • Event spaces (at 50% capacity)
  • Churches can hold services with capacity limits of 75 people in attendance and social distancing guidelines in place.
  • Non-contact and individual recreational sports / athletic training is permitted. High-contact sports are permitted, without spectators
  • Driving restrictions are in effect (see below). 
  • Public transportation, including buses and trains, can operate. Taxis can operate at all hours of every day.
Enjoying being in nature at the recently reopened Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

NOTE: Costa Rican borders were closed on March 18th. Residents and Citizens were allowed to enter provided they adhere to a 14-day quarantine. Foreigners who entered Costa Rica on a tourist visa after December 17, 2019 were legally allowed to remain in Costa Rica until August 18, 2020.

On August 1st, Costa Rica began opening it’s air corridors to tourists of certain countries. Land and sea borders still remain closed. 

Nationalities Allowed to Enter Costa Rica

On August 1, 2020, Costa Rica began opening its borders to tourists. The following countries are permitted entry as of August 20, 2020:

  • The United States (only residents of New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and Connecticut as of September 1st)
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Switzerland
  • Vatican State
  • Luxembourg
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Liechtenstein
  • Monaco
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • Spain
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Thailand
  • The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • Czech Republic
  • Cyprus
  • Austria
  • Bulgaria
  • Korea
  • Croatia
  • Slovenia
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Malta
  • Poland
  • San Marino
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Germany
  • France
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Uruguay
  • China
  • Portugal
  • Romania

This list is re-evaluated every two weeks. Visitors must have been in one of the aforementioned countries for a minimum of 14 days before arriving in Costa Rica.

Entry Requirments 

All tourists, regardless of the country of departure, must present the following documents on arrival in Costa Rica.

  • A complete epidemiological health form found here.
  • A negative PCR coronavirus test on arrival, which was not taken more than 48 hours before the flight to Costa Rica. 
  • Health insurance which covers COVID related claims and/or an extended hotel stay.

Visitors planning to enter Costa Rica can now upload travel insurance information, and proof of state residence for American citizens, to the online health form. Approved tourists will get a “green code” which they will show to immigration authorities upon arrival. This will reduce waiting times at the airport in Costa Rica. 

Mask Requirements

On June 27th, mandatory mask requirements were put into place. They apply to all residents and are required in many public situations, including:

  • Any employee interacting with the public (e.g. waiters, bank tellers, public transport drivers, etc)
  • Drivers and the public using public transport (e.g. buses, taxis)
  • Officiants and guests at religious services
  • In theatres and cinemas
  • Anyone visiting a health center, prison, drug or alcohol treatment center, or centers caring for at-risk populations
  • For caretakers attending to the elderly or those with disabilities, especially at nursing homes or residential alternatives
  • Call-center employees who share cubicles
  • Customers at banks

COVID 19 in Costa Rica: Timeline of Events

  • March 6, 2020: 1st case in Costa Rica confirmed.
  • March 9, 2020: Mass gatherings are suspended, employees are told to work from home
  • March 16, 2020: Costa Rica declares the State of Emergency. All in-person education is suspended. 
  • March 18, 2020: Costa Rican borders close to international arrivals. Residents and citizens arriving in the country must quarantine for 14 days. 
  • March 23, 2020: Beaches and National Parks are closed. Temples and religious services are suspended. Vehicle restrictions come into effect. Driving is not permitted between 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
  • April 4-12, 2020: Significant travel restrictions come into effect during Semana Santa. Driving is only permitted 2-3 days/week according to your license plate.  
  • May 1, 2020: Costa Rica begins easing COVID 19 measures. Some shops, gyms, swim schools, theatres, and beauty services begin some operations. Beaches and National Parks remain closed. 
  • May 18, 2020: Beaches reopen with limited hours. 12 National Parks & Monteverde Reserve reopen at 50% capacity. 
  • June 1, 2020: 15 Protected Wildlife Areas are reopened. Additional restrictions are eased. 
  • June 25, 2020: Costa Rica reports 169 new cases in one day, a record number for the country. 
  • June 27, 2020: The Government announced a further easing of restrictions, putting the majority of the country into Phase 3. 
  • August 1, 2020: The country began opening to international tourists
  • August 31 – September 8, 2020: Transition phrases for most businesses to reopen.
  • September 9 – September 30, 2020: Controlled re-opening phase of establishments. Read the Official Plan here

Driving Restrictions

Driving restrictions have been in effect across Costa Rica since March 23 and are set to continue until further notice. Driving restrictions are in effect based on the last digit of the license plate. Restrictions vary between weekday restrictions and weekend restrictions. 

The following weekday restrictions are currently in effect across the country in both orange and yellow zones. Driving is permitted between the hours of 5 am and 10 pm.

  • Mondays: Vehicles with license plates ending in 1 and 2 cannot drive. Vehicles with license plates ending in all other numbers can drive freely.
  • Tuesdays: Vehicles with license plates ending in 3 and 4 cannot drive. Vehicles with license plates ending in all other numbers can drive freely.
  • Wednesdays: Vehicles with license plates ending in 5 and 6 cannot drive. Vehicles with license plates ending in all other numbers can drive freely.
  • Thursdays: Vehicles with license plates ending in 7 and 8 cannot drive. Vehicles with license plates ending in all other numbers can drive freely.
  • Fridays: Vehicles with license plates ending in 9 and 0 cannot drive. Vehicles with license plates ending in all other numbers can drive freely.

The following weekend restrictions are enforced across the country in both orange and yellow zones. Driving is permitted between the hours of 5 am and 8 pm

  • Saturdays: Vehicles with license plates ending in even numbers cannot drive. Vehicles with license plates ending in an odd number can drive to establishments that have been permitted to operate by the Health Ministry (e.g. supermarkets, pharmacies, gyms, health centers, hotels).
  • Sundays: Vehicles with license plates ending in odd numbers cannot drive. Vehicles with license plates ending in an even number can drive to establishments that have been permitted to operate by the Health Ministry.

COVID 19 in Costa Rica: General Rules

The Health Ministry asked all residents to observe and adhere to a number of general rules as it pertains to COVID 19. 

  1. No one with a cold or flu, or with respiratory symptoms, should leave the house.
  2. People with high-risk factors should avoid going to public places.
  3. While in public, maintain a distance of 1.8 meters (6 feet) between anyone not in your “social bubble.”
  4. Do not touch your face in public without first washing your hands.
  5. Do not sing, shout or speak loudly in public.
  6. Wear face masks, especially on public transportation or if remaining in a public place for more than 15 minutes.
  7. If possible, take the temperature of patrons before allowing them into an establishment

COVID 19 & Costa Rican the Economy

As with everywhere in the world, COVID 19 has had a devastating impact on the Costa Rican economy, particularly as it affected tourism, one of the largest segments of the local economy. According to the Central Bank of Costa Rica (BCCR), Costa Rica’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to decrease by 3.6% due to the COVID-19 pandemic with hundreds of thousands of locals being impacted by the loss of jobs in the tourism sector. 

Today, the Costa Rican government is putting the focus on domestic travel while slowly reintroducing international travel in an attempt to revive the tourism sector. But it’ll be a long and difficult road to recovery. 

Best beaches in Costa Rica
Empty beach in Playa Tamarindo – one of Costa Rica’s top tourist hot spot

This is a developing story, so we’ll do our best to keep this post updated with the latest updates from the ground here in Costa Rica. 

Do you have any questions about COVID 19 in Costa Rica? Leave a comment below!

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