The easing of lockdown in Colombia will not happen when the clock strikes midnight on April 27, despite encouraging data by the Ministry of Health that indicates the country has begun flattening the epi-curve. In a statement during a virtual session of Congress by the Minster of Health Fernando Ruíz, the lifting of certain restrictions will start with certain economic sectors, but does not signify a return to the streets for citizens.
“The objective isn’t ending quarantine on April 27, but maintaining obligatory isolation for specific groups and the population at-large,” he said. The Minister emphasized that a “Flexible quarantine” must be “gradual and controlled,” but future lockdowns are possible depending on the spread of coronavirus. The Minister claims that there could be 12,000 cases of COVID-19 in the country based on rates of infection around the world. The “Flexible quarantine” has also been referred to in the country as the Accordion Effect.
While for a vast majority of Colombians the declaration by the country’s top health official comes as no surprise as they abide by a slate of decrees that restrict individual freedoms, in the capital Bogotá, hordes of protestors are taking to the streets to vent their anger at delays by the district to hand-over financial subsidies and food packages. Many of the protests are taking place in impoverished neighborhoods in the south of Bogotá – among them Ciudad Bolívar – resulting in road blockades with burning fires.
On Wednesday evening, Mayor Claudia López authorized the presence of the National Police’s Anti-Riot Squad – ESMAD – to quell civic unrest, and which turned violent, after tear gas was fired at protestors. The use of force against families clamoring for assistance raised the ire of former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro, who from Havana, Cuba, where he is undergoing medical treatment, accused López of being a “tyrant” and “irresponsible” by targeting a pots and pans protest (cacerolazo) with teargas.
“Claudia, it’s not about sending in ESMAD and helicopters to gas the poor,” tweeted Petro. “It’s about giving food.”
Petro’s social media postings were quickly met with a response from López who accused “politicians of taking advantage of vulnerability” and that aid will be delivered “with transparency, NOT under pressure from any politician.” On Thursday, protests continued in the south of the capital restricting the movement of the articulated bus system TransMilenio.
If a return to some degree of “normal” for Bogotá requires further social distancing and limited movement based on gender, Minister of Health Fernando Ruíz admitted in an official statement that Colombia “cannot remain a permanently closed society,” as isolation will inevitably generate “severe unemployment, poverty, hunger and other health problems for the public.”
As Colombia faces the challenge of how to eventually lift restrictions with the COVID-19 pandemic, on Thursday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases increased by 128 to put the new national total at 3233. The Ministry of Health also confirmed 13 additional deaths putting the national total at 144. All 13 victims of COVID-19 suffered pre-existing medical conditions and their deaths were reported in Buenaventura, Palmira, Pereira, Tumaco, Cali, Villavicencio and Bogotá. Two of the deceased were aged 97 and youngest 40.
In Bogotá, 43 new cases were reported putting the total in the capital at 1333. The department of Valle del Cauca reported 27 new cases, Magdalena 8, Cartagena 8, Antioquia 7, Huila 5, Meta 5, Santander 5, Caldas 2, Cauca 2, Nariño 2, Córdoba 2, Tolima 1, Cundinamarca 1, César 1, Atlántico 1, Barranquilla 1 and Boyacá 1.
In the daily bulletin released by the Ministry of Health, 3457 COVID-19 tests were processed and 550 patients have recovered.