Governments around the world are beginning the laborious task of easing lockdowns, some faster than others, as the threat of COVID-19 shows no sign of abating, waning, or disappearing. And Colombia isn’t far behind with 23,003 cases of coronavirus and 776 deaths.
While the country ranks 35 in the global coronavirus count (according to Johns Hopkins), logged between Indonesia with 23,165 cases and Kuwait with 22,575, Colombia is proceeding with “productive life,” as many citizens are grappling with financial uncertainty and loss, boredom with quarantine and specter that whichever sectors the government of President Iván Duque authorizes, a “return to normal” could signify further lockdowns in 2020.
A death toll is always tragic, from one life lost to hundreds or thousands, but in a city of 10 million inhabitants such as Bogotá, an average of six deaths per day from illnesses other than COVID-19 pales in comparison to the daily rash of fatalities in traffic accidents, suicides, homicides and casualties of the internal conflict.
These do not undermine the seriousness of COVID-19 nor necessary steps to avoid the peaking of the epidemiological curve, but since March 6, when the first case of coronavirus was detected, 776 deaths – the majority of whom suffered complex and often incurable medical conditions – is slightly more than double the number of those who perished in 2017 when a mudslide destroyed parts of Mocoa, Putumayo. And taking the death toll to an extreme, 22,000 deaths registered when the Nevado del Ruíz volcano erupted on the night of November 13, 1985.
As mentioned, deaths from natural or man-made disasters (time will tell which category COVID-19 falls into) are always tragedies, but so too, is extreme poverty, domestic violence, homelessness, and mental illness. All exacerbated by a virus that tops the public health agenda and toppled economic growth for months, even years to come. It may take years for a vaccine to be available in countries that haven’t invested in its development or human trails. Until that day comes – if it comes – will elected governments push the lockdown “repeat” button as citizens begin to rebuild lives and businesses.
As long as coronavirus dominates public attention, President Iván Duque and Mayor Claudia López will maintain high approval ratings for leading the country, and country’s largest city, down a path of caution. However, by being overzealous with “saving lives,” and disciplinary with handing-down fines, both leaders face political apathy at the polls, as their names will be associated with the handling of the pandemic that requires long-term forecasting over populist pedagogy.
With some sectors braced for reopening, while many others must remain shuttered-up (or face hefty fines), the entire process is arbitrary – even discriminatory – as COVID-19 does not spread according to establishment or business. A plumber or electrician working on a renovation could be more protected inside someone’s home than clients window shopping at a mall.
A day without COVID-19 remains a distant prospect, and even though we would like to imagine that the day, all essential measures are now in place to protect the young, elderly, and apparently healthy, from contracting a contagion that won’t be the first – nor the last – of its kind.
With 60 laboratories processing PCR tests every day, more cases of COVID-19 are inevitable. Whether Colombia – or the majority of nations – have reached their peak, the infection rate in the country remains at 1. On Tuesday, from 10,306 tests, 1,022 cases were confirmed by the Ministry of Health, putting the national total at 23,003. While the numbers are discouraging, COVID-19 has reached communities large and small, with an additional 26 fatalities registered in Bogotá, Cali, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Leticia, Tumaco, Guateque and Buenaventura.
Bogotá with 7,743 cases accounts for 33.6% of the national total, and significant statistic given the population density and urban sprawl.
On a day in which the global death toll reaches 350,000 with 98,800 in the U.S alone, Colombia, as President Duque affirms, cannot take a “triumphalist” stance, nor one, that governs for interests of select economic sectors.