Colombia sets new daily record in COVID-19 infections as crime worsens in Bogotá

With the easing of quarantine, Bogotá’s empty streets began to take on a new sense of normal as shopkeepers hosed down their facades to welcome their first clients since March when the strictest measure of preventive isolation went into effect. But there is one distinguishable feature that has been added to street culture – the face mask. The obligatory accessory is now part of global couture and while it keeps ourselves – and others – safe from coronavirus, it also has become a security issue when identifying potential muggers.

While Bogotá has witnessed a decrease in homicide rates in recent years and perception among residents is one of improved security in neighborhoods, the three-month-long quarantine has resulted in a rash of burglaries of apartment buildings and inside recently reopened shopping malls.

The heist of a jewelry store Tuesday by four armed assailants inside Gran Estación – one of the first malls to reopen as part of the district’s economic reactivation agenda – triggered the alarm bells with Mayor Claudia López that rising crime levels is a more immediate concern to Bogotanos than the on-going pandemic.

From apartment buildings being broken into, to street muggings and bicycle theft, Mayor López was swift to shift the blame on the Metropolitan Police, stating on Twitter: “The increase in robberies in Bogotá is unacceptable! Today 10% of Bogotá’s Police are on vacation and 20% in quarantine with Covid. Furthermore, they are not receiving prisoners in national jails. I have convened a joint Security Council with the national government because that is unsustainable!”

López’s heavy-handed statement did not go down well with the government of President Iván Duque and received a response from Diego Molano, director of the Presidency’s Administrative Department. “Unstainable is to attack the Police and not criminals for the rash in serious robberies. Unacceptable is to blame the national government for what happens in Bogotá.”

In her elected role as Mayor of Bogotá, López is the “first police authority of the District Capital,” states Article 187 of District Governance and her role is “to preserve public order.”

Joining accusations that López is in the midst of a blame game with the national government is the head of City Council and former Senator Carlos Galán. Galán also took to social media stating: “Taking credit when security indices improve but blaming others when they worsen isn’t serious nor responsible.”

While the issue at hand is public safety, López has challenged Duque on major decisions regarding the management of the pandemic, ever since first cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the capital, beginning with a four-day quarantine drill, which preceded Duque’s declaration of the National Health Emergency. López also remarked that it was the government’s fault for importing coronavirus through the International Airport El Dorado.

The Mayor has also repeatedly accused the Ministry of Health of not handing-over respirators to city hospitals, even as health authorities were in the process of purchasing them in highly competitive markets. And while López allowed an anti-government demonstration to proceed on June 11, resulting in vandalism to TransMilenio stations, she condemned the government’s reactivation of the retail sector with a Tax-Free Day.

Even as security in Bogotá is the epidemic within a pandemic, the social media outbursts only sour the relationship between the Executive and local government at a moment in which greater coordination and cooperation is needed to combat the spread of coronavirus. On Wednesday, the country registered the highest number of COVID-19 cases – 3,541 – after processing 16,981 PCR tests. Of the day’s total, Bogotá confirmed 960 cases and 18 additional fatalities. Bogotá’s new total stands at 23,367.

With 77,113 cases, Colombia now ranks 22 among the nations with most infections, surpassed by China with 84,658 and country where the outbreak started December 2019. On Wednesday, the death toll added 87 additional victims to reach 2,491. According to the Ministry of Health, 31,671 patients have recovered.