Duque ends Colombia’s COVID-19 Health Emergency

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President Duque ends Health Emergency. EFE/ Natalia Pedraza

President Iván Duque announced Tuesday that the National Health Emergency decreed with the outbreak of coronavirus will end on June 30. The health emergency that encompassed far-reaching measures to protect Colombians and strengthen the nation’s health care system with COVID-19 was declared back on March 12, 2020, and with President Duque’s announcement officially ends one of the most difficult episodes in his administration and pandemic that claimed the lives of some 140,000 citizens.

“This news should make us happy as a country,” remarked President Duque in the company of Health Minister Fernando Ruíz, and basing his decision on the most recent epidemiological data. “We celebrate this collective triumph, that we act thinking of Colombia, thinking of science and not politics,” he said. Minister Ruiz reaffirmed that the decision to end the National Health Emergency took several weeks and “complex decision making” given the important reduction in COVID-19 mortality rates and “better response conditions of the Colombian health system.”

President Duque added that “during these 840 days, we set ourselves two major objectives: mass vaccination and safe reactivation, but with an umbrella, care for the most vulnerable.” Colombia’s vaccination coverage has reached 83% of the population with at least one dose and more than 70% with double dose schemes.  “These figures have not only been respected, but praised internationally, because we make decisions based on science and to protect Colombians,” highlighted Duque.

After more than two years in which the National Health Institute released a daily bulletin of COVID-19 infections and deaths, that most recent weekly bulletin (June 10 to 16) reports an additional 13,800 cases and 24 deaths. The country still has 14,500 active cases of the disease.

A recent article by Canadian journalist David Frum for The Atlantic – titled The President who did Everything Right and Got no Thanks – recognizes President Duque’s “careful, balanced and well-informed” pandemic management. “On COVID, he rejected the dismissal and denial espoused by populists like Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Duque did not pursue dubious Chinese vaccines to win points from anti-American voters, as Peru’s leftist president, Pedro Castillo, did,” writes Frum.

“At every turn, he (Duque) faced attacks either for doing dangerously too much, according to the hard right, or for doing offensively too little, according to the radical left,” affirms The Atlantic.

With just over a month before president-elect Gustavo Petro is sworn in, among the many important cabinet appointments for this country’s first leftist government, is Minister Ruiz’s replacement. Even though Petro has yet to reveal the official slate of candidates for this senior portfolio, President Duque’s lifting of the National Health Emergency signals the end of a political legacy, but not the age of pandemics.