Less than a week before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, a pandemic on March 11, Colombia had already registered its first case of the disease after a citizen residing in Milan, Italy, returned to the country and required medical attention in a Bogotá hospital.
With cases increasing during March, from one to several hundred each day, the national government enacted health emergency measures which remain in effect to this day. And now, as the world commemorates more than 2 million lives lost to the virus and 100 million cases, included in these numbers from Johns Hopkins is Colombia, which on Saturday surpassed 2 million cases. The country also witnessed a harrowing 50,000 deaths in 10 months, with thousands of additional victims estimated during the months of February and March as the nation grapples with a second wave of the pandemic. Even though the second wave is more infectious than the original outbreak, no foreign variant of COVID-19 has been detected in the country.
Even though for some Colombians who view with disdain social distancing, ignore face masks and believe like many others around the world that they are immune to coronavirus, the disease has overwhelmed the country’s healthcare system and UCIs are filled to maximum capacity with critically-ill patients from every socioeconomic stratum, gender and age group. On Saturday, from the 396 fatalities confirmed by the Ministry of Health, the age of victims ranged between 24 and 106, the majority having contracted the virus with a range of pre-existing medical conditions.
Among the 1,800 patients receiving medical treatment in Bogotá ICUs is Carlos Holmes Trujillo, the country’s Minister of Defense and who has been hospitalized for more than weeks after contracting coronavirus during an official trip to the Colombian coast. Holmes Trujillo is the only member of President Iván Duque’s cabinet to be hospitalized with the virus, even though both vice-President Martha Lucía Ramírez and Foreign Minister Claudia Blum tested positive over the Christmas holidays and self-isolated.
The medical situation of Holmes Trujillo remains delicate given that the diplomat and former Mayor of Cali has been connected to an artificial respirator for more than a week and on Saturday evening rumors on social media claimed the 67-year old politician had died. The Presidency quickly denied the fake news allegations by issuing a statement confirming that Holmes Trujillo was in stable condition and has shown a slight improvement in his oxygen levels.
Colombia’s per-day average of coronavirus cases ranges between 15,000 and 18,000 – down from highs of 22,000 registered mid-January.