COVID-19 testing delays in Colombia cast doubt over official numbers

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AME5513. SAO PAULO (BRASIL), 18/03/2020.- Detalle del trabajo de una científica brasileña en el laboratorio de Inmunología del Instituto del Corazón (Incor) de la Facultad de Medicina de la Universidad de Sao Paulo el pasado 17 de marzo, durante una visita de Efe, en Sao Paulo (Brasil). Científicos brasileños desarrollan una vacuna contra el coronavirus con un método diferente al utilizado hasta ahora por la industria farmacéutica y grupos de investigadores de otros países, que esperan que sea testada en animales en los próximos meses. Es el gran reto actual de la comunidad científica internacional y Brasil, como potencia de Latinoamérica, se ha sumado a esta agónica carrera por descubrir una respuesta inmune eficaz contra el virus que ha paralizado medio mundo, aunque lo ha hecho con un abordaje diferente. Mientras, los brasileños continúan escépticos sobre el alcance de esta pandemia global en el país, donde hay unos 300 casos confirmados y al menos una muerte por COVID-19. EFE/ Sebastiao Moreira

Colombia’s capacity to deliver accurate and fast test results for COVID-19 infection has come under scrutiny since early cases of coronavirus were being reported by the National Institute of Health. When the country’s main tester, located in Bogotá, presented technical issues last month with suspected cases of the disease still in the low hundreds, the long-standing political foe of the government of President Iván Duque, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro offered in donation two brand new Chinese testers in order “to help test the people of Colombia.”

The Colombian government’s response to Maduro’s “humanitarian gesture” is one of diplomatic deference, neither accepting nor rejecting the testers.

With 1485 cases of COVID-19 in the country according to the National Institute of Health, the entity in charge of gathering test results, and 35 deaths since the outbreak was confirmed on March 6, health authorities have been scrambling to bridge delays with results, often up to two weeks, given the centralized data collection from an articulated network of laboratories authorized to test potential patients of the disease.

The discrepancy between the confirmed numbers of patients with coronavirus and actual levels of community spread was raised by Fernando Carrillo, the nation’s Controller General, who claims that “very few tests” are being performed in Colombia and as a result is preventing the government from being able to take concrete decisions to mitigate infection.

On Monday, 50,000 fast COVID-19 testers arrived in the country from South Korea as part of a cooperation agreement between both nations. The Ministry of Health aims to test up to 17,000 potential carriers of the virus every day. The Illinois pharma giant Abbott Laboratories has offered Colombia 1 million test kits.

The lag in fast results COVID-19 testing comes as the government’s nationwide lockdown is scheduled to end on April 13, with Bogotá the focus of almost 50% of all coronavirus infection in the country; and following recommendations from the world health entities, the government-mandated the obligatory use of face mask in public transportation and in public spaces where social distancing measures are difficult to enforce.

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