The variant of the coronavirus, identified recently in the UK as a highly infectious strain of COVID-19 appears to be circulating in the Colombian capital affirmed Mayor Claudia López given the rapid surge in new cases from the second wave of the disease.

Referencing data from the National Institute of Health taken during the last epidemiological week (December 29 – January 4), Mayor López’s affirmation that the new strain was imported by travelers from Europe and the UK is based on the premise that the locality that receives most foreign visitors– Usaquén – also has the fastest contagion rate in the city. Residents of Usaquén have been placed in strict quarantine until January 17.

The Mayor’s virtual press conference also confirmed that Bogotá’s ICUs for COVID-19 – and non-COVID-19 patients – has reached Red Alert with 85% occupancy, forcing the district to enact a four day strict down starting Thursday, January 7 (11:59 p.m) until Tuesday, January 12 (4 a.m).

This most recent measure recalls the strict quarantine drill of March last year when the capital was reporting less than 200 new daily cases of infection. The latest lockdown includes a ban on the sale of alcohol. The four day lockdown will be followed by night curfews (8 p.m to 4 a.m) from Tuesday, January 12, to Sunday, January 17. All non-essential mobility has been restricted during both the lockdown and curfews.

With three localities in quarantine until January 17, Mayor López added three more – Teusaquillo, Fontibón and Kennedy – given rising infections and which enter strict lockdown for 14 days as of Tuesday, January 12. The locality of Fontibón was included in the measure given its proximity to El Dorado airport.

Even though the Ministry of Health has no evidence confirming the existence of the COVID-19 variant in Colombia, for Mayor López, the overwhelming demand for ICUs, (some 92 per-day compared with 67 during the peak of the first wave in July) indicates that a 30% increase in contagion can be attributed to the new strain. “Something different is happening instead of new cases declining, as we witnessed during most of December, they are skyrocketing.” The Mayor also affirmed that from more than 4,000 PCR tests processed daily by district health authorities, one-in-three individuals are testing positive. This statistic is higher than a similar one released last week by the Ministry of Health claiming one-in-four Colombians are testing positive for COVID-19.

President Iván Duque questioned Mayor López’s affirmations, stating that there “is no evidence from the National Institute of Health that the UK variant is circulating in the territory,” stressing that the government imposed restrictions during December to suspend flights to and from the UK, as well as measures to control the movement of passengers in transit.

On Thursday, Bogotá registered an additional 5,375 cases of COVID-19 to put the city’s total at 501,691 since the outbreak on March 6, 2020. The country recorded its highest single day increase with 17,576 cases, as well as 46 victims to put the death toll at 45,067.