The days are marked by small rituals, some more meaningful than others, and after 48 days in government-ordered confinement, the “new normal” remains elusive.
As coronavirus lockdowns replaced many aspects of life we took for granted with strict policing of our mobility, during the last week these freedoms have been somewhat relaxed, allowing adults to exercise for a few hours each morning. The measures adopted to confront the spread of COVID-19 in Colombia have been paramount in saving lives, not just among elderly populations but more needed to protect the indigenous and incarcerated. As countries around the world begin to evaluate how to ease lockdowns, some moving faster than others to reopen shops, commercial centers, or restaurants, as far as Bogotá is concerned, it will take several months before we will be able to visit an art gallery, museum or dining venue. As for dancing on crowded floor space or attending spectator sports, even more months.
What has happened to Bogotá since a quarantine was enacted on March 25 with the declaration of the National Health Emergency is more profound than abrupt changes to accepted norms and routines. For countless businesses, the impact of the quarantine has financially devasted revenues and household incomes. Financial recovery will be painful depending on the timeframe when the vast majority of workers will be able to resume some degree of productivity, as work from home is a concept familiar to entrepreneurs and creatives, but impossible for up to 60% of the nation’s labor force that works manually or depends on person-to-person sales.
We’ll grow used to the social distancing and wearing the obligatory facemask on the street because these are temporary requirements to keep ourselves – and more importantly others – safe. We’ll also revise our bucket list to eliminate all non-essential travel until there’s a vaccine against COVID-19. We’ll also think twice about attending that dinner party with friends or going to the movies.
There will be many aspects of life that we can put on hold until further notice, but one is irreplaceable – freedom – from the personal to the collective. And this is where history will judge leadership, beyond political titles and pre-COVID-19 agendas. As far as Bogotá is concerned, Mayor Claudia López’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak has been received overwhelmingly by residents, an 89% approval rating according to an Invamer poll and highest of any elected Mayor in the last 26 years. But controlling the spread of the virus in this nine million-strong city is still in an early phase and while the poll reveals a strong mandate it also reflects on the discipline of the majority of Bogotanos to self-isolate for the common good.
The question that now arises: is how much longer can this discipline hold without tearing the last shreds of the economic and social fabric of the city apart? I believe, not much.
While Bogotá as of Sunday has 2,958 cases of COVID-19 of the nation’s 7,668 total, no recent announcements have been made by the Mayoralty on re-opening the economy a week before the national Health Emergency expires at midnight on May 11. Many countries with similar coronavirus cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, among them Finland, Czech Republic, and Australia, have set in motion normalization rules that allow people to return to work and even travel between cities. If Mayor López determines post-May 11 that rallying political bases over-rides decisions taken by the Presidency then there can be only one outcome of the pandemic: the pauperization of Bogotá.