Thursday saw both Spain and France surpass one million cases of coronavirus, lowering Colombia’s global ranking on the Johns Hopkins tally from six to eighth-place.
On Saturday, Colombia became the only other Latin American nation besides Brazil in reaching the worrisome seven-digit benchmark – 1,007,711 – despite the number of active cases standing at 68,008 or 907,379 patients recovered. And even though there has been a lowering of daily new infections since reaching the first “peak” of the pandemic on August 19 with 13,056 cases, on Wednesday, Bogotá saw one of the largest mass demonstrations against the government as an estimated 18,000 took to the streets, including 7,000 representatives of the Misak, Nasa and Pijao indigenous communities.
The constitutional right to protest has been overshadowed by concerns that the almost year-long national strike – Paro Nacional – against the government’s social, economic and political policies is a threat to public health as the two largest cities in the country – Bogotá and Medellín – almost doubled daily cases in a week. While the national government claims through the Ministry of Health that 90% of patients recover, the death toll in the country increased Friday to 29,802 including the day’s 16 additional victims.
The protests led by labor unions, educators, students and civic organizations across the country were conducted in peace without the vandalism and violent confrontations with the police that have characterized the Paro Nacional since it began on November 21, and continued with monthly rallies until March 23 with the government’s declaration of the coronavirus emergency.
During five months in which local administrations oversaw quarantines, weekend curfews and enforced other restrictive measures, Bogotá remained at the epicenter of the pandemic and its ICU capacity of 2,158 beds occupied at 90%. The easing of mobility and lifting of rotating quarantines by localities on August 27, when the total number of coronavirus cases stood near 204,000, also announced renewed calls by the Paro Nacional Committee for strike action, beginning with the first post-quarantine demonstration on August 31 and followed by another on September 21. Between both dates, however, on September 9, the killing of a 43-year old lawyer while in police custody, ignited the most violent confrontations between protestors and security forces the capital has witnessed in recent years and resulted in the deaths of 13 civilians and more than 80 injured. Even though the anti-police brutality protests were not part of the Paro Nacional, vandals seized the opportunity to attack public and private infrastructure.
More than two months of rotating protests across Colombia have resulted in a new increase in daily infections, and while members of the county’s many indigenous peoples maintained the peace on October 21, they also exposed themselves to the risk of infection by participating in crowded marches despite the obligatory use of face masks.
The “second wave” of coronavirus has shifted the epicenter from Bogotá to Antioquia and its capital Medellín. Registering 2,229 new cases on Friday compared to Bogotá’s 1,546, the departmental hospital system has been placed under Red Alert with ICU capacity above 80%. Antioquia’s accelerated increase in new infections comes within the same week that the World Health Organization claims “the next few months are going to be very tough and some countries are on a dangerous track.” The organization’s Director-General Tedros Ghebreyes has urged leaders “to take immediate action” to prevent further unnecessary deaths, health systems collapsing and schools being forced to close. “I said it in February, and I’m repeating it again: this is not a drill,” said Ghebreyes. Yet, as far as more strike dates in Bogotá are concerned, the warning from the global health authority appears to be sidetracked by Mayor López’s defense of anti-government protests that do not represent the political future of the Colombian majority.