They gather at sunrise on an expanse of beach in La Boquilla to unload their catch of fresh fish for the merchants of Bazurto, Cartagena’s bustling market that supplies the city’s inhabitants, restaurants and hotels. An outbreak of COVID-19 in Bazurto on Wednesday forced local authorities to close the stalls confirming the port city as a new epicenter of coronavirus in Colombia.
After a serious outbreak in Leticia, departmental capital of Amazonas, which resulted in a severe lockdown of a city that borders Brazil and Peru, on Thursday, of Colombia’s confirmed 652 new cases of the virus, 124 were reported in Cartagena, shifting the epicenter from the Amazon to the Caribbean coast. From 22 fatalities confirmed in the 24 hours, seven occurred in Cartagena, followed by an equal number in Bogotá. The Colombian capital reported 123 new cases, putting its new total at 6,311 or 34% of the national total.
With 10 days to go before a two-month-long quarantine enters a new phase of easing, Colombia’s 643 new cases raised the national total to 18,330 and death toll at 652. The National Institute of Health processed a daily record of 7,575 PCR tests. Barranquilla confirmed 84 new cases, Amazonas 74, Valle 67 and Atlántico 58, among other cities and departments.
As Colombia grapples to contain 73 clusters of COVID-19, the pandemic has not deterred Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from hurling insults at his Colombian counterpart Iván Duque. In his most recent tirade from Miraflores Palace in Caracas, the leader of the Bolivarian regime accused Duque of an alleged plot to infect Venezuelans by returning migrants to his country. “The order that Iván Duque gave, I denounced two weeks ago […] an order to do everything to contaminate Venezuela,” said Maduro. Venezuela, with a collapsed health system after decades of neglect and corruption, has 824 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
According to Maduro, of his country’s 75 new cases reported on Wednesday, 67 were “imported” from Colombia and infected citizens must remain in border towns until they overcome the disease. “Organized gangs are passing these Venezuelans across the border through informal routes,” said Maduro before on the PanAmerican Health Organization (PAHO) to enforce controls. “Venezuelans who have returned from Colombia in recent weeks were healthy […] they presume that they were contaminated by buses,” continued Maduro referring to the voluntary humanitarian convoys organized by Colombia’s immigration authority Migración Colombia.
The head of the regime called on the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB), and other state security forces, to be “alert” to this “professed evil of contaminating people.” Colombia is home to 1,8 million Venezuelans who fled their country in the last six years in search of economic opportunities. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Colombia, Migración Colombia claims 59,300 Venezuelans have returned to their homeland, representing 3% of the migrant population.
While the plight of Venezuelans returning to their native soil unleashes the latest hemispheric conspiracy, for the fishermen of Cartagena, the closure of Bazurto is a far greater a threat to their livelihoods than coronavirus. “What we have caught is not enough to pay for the gasoline from the boat,” explains Martín after six hours of work in which neither he nor his colleagues have even been able to eat breakfast. “We will die of hunger before the pandemic,” he said.
Additional reporting by EFE in Caracas and Cartagena.