The civil unrest that has marked nine days of protests across Colombia, and backed by striking truck drivers, has impeded the flow of urgent medical supplies, including oxygen tanks, for hospitals to treat coronavirus patients.
An incident involving an ambulance that could not pass through a barricade that was being protected by several protesters resulted in a pregnant woman losing her baby. This incident, along with others denounced by healthcare workers affected by road blockades, riots, mass mobilizations and extensive vandalism to transportation systems, are not only a direct violation of humanitarian law, but especially during a pandemic that over 14 months has infected more than 2.9 million citizens and claimed the lives of 76,414.
As food supplies begin to deplete in Colombian cities, local administrations and the national government were able to negotiate with the National Strike Committee the opening of 60 humanitarian corridors to secure the movement of perishables, livestock, gasoline and medicines, much of which needs to transport through the capital Bogotá to reach other markets given road connectivity and mountainous topography.
The Ministry of Health warned that 126 medical missions have been targeted during the first week of Paro Nacional. “The health sector calls for respect, empathy and support from protesters and social leaders towards all health personnel because without the free movement of patients, supplies and medicines, the health system will be without the capacity to respond to those who require treatment in the midst of a pandemic,” said Luis Fernando Correa Serna of the Ministry’s office for Territorial Emergency and Disaster Management.
With the nation’s food security under threat, as well as imports and exports of consumer goods, the coronavirus vaccine roll-out has also been affected in Cali and Bogotá given the precarious security situation and that forced Mayors Jorge Iván Ospina and Claudia López respectively to close or suspend vaccinations on days where protests have turned violent. The country is concluding Phase II of the National Vaccine Plan, which covers persons age 60 or over.
Many citizens requiring their second doses of the Pfizer or Sinovac vaccines have also been deterred from leaving their homes given the lack of public transport or traffic gridlock as marches disrupt vehicle mobility at key intersections and streets. Despite the ongoing strike, the Ministry of Health confirmed that health workers were able to administer on Wednesday 152,000 first doses and 80,000-second doses. Since the vaccine campaign began mid-February, Colombia has inoculated 5.7 million persons.
On Thursday, demonstrations continued in Bogotá at 11 different locations generating delays for commuters as TransMilenio’s designated bus lanes were occupied by protesters. With anti-government marches also taking place in many European cities, among them Berlin, Barcelona, Madrid and Brussels, the Office of the Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) confirmed 24 deaths in the protests that began on April 28. Several human rights organizations, however, claim the number of victims is 31.
Bogotá Mayor Claudia López also highlighted Thursday from the Police’s Unified Command Post (PMU), that no deaths in the capital can be attributed to the riots and that all disappeared persons have been accounted for. “We must all continue to seek dialogue, temper our spirits and take care of each other,” remarked López. López’s choice of words comes as the city’s ICU occupancy remains at 93% (2,431 beds of 2,607 in total), with 4,724 additional cases of infection on Thursday raising Bogotá’s total to 814,615. Colombia registered 16,490 cases and 399 deaths.