BOGOTA – Alarmed by the high number of COVID-19 patients in intensive-care units and the rapid spread of that respiratory disease, Colombia’s capital is set to put 2.5 million residents of three hard-hit neighborhoods under new strict quarantines.
Bogota, the main focal point of the pandemic in Colombia, has registered 480,219 confirmed coronavirus cases – 38,433 of which are currently active – and 9,981 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Coronavirus patients, meanwhile, currently occupy 1,362 of the 1,752 ICU beds set aside for the pandemic – an occupancy rate of 77.7 percent.
In response, Bogota Government Secretary Luis Ernesto Gomez announced that Usaquen, Suba and Engativa, three of the metropolis’ 20 localities, will be placed under a two-week quarantine that will start on Tuesday and run through Jan. 18.
Bogota Health Secretary Alejandro Gomez said that city of more than 7.5 million inhabitants is experiencing a second wave of the pandemic and that the objective of the limited quarantines is to avoid a repeat of the situation of late July, when ICU-bed occupancy rates climbed above 90 percent.
But Dr. Carolina Corcho, the vice president of the Colombian Medical Federation, told EFE that the reports her organization is receiving indicate “a considerable number of patients in emergency services waiting for two, three or four days to be transferred to an ICU.”
“It’s not clear why the information system shows there are 80 ICU beds available, and yet patients are not accessing them. For us, there’s a contradiction, a bottleneck that needs to be cleared up,” she said.
The Bogota Medical College, for its part, called on Monday for the declaration of a red alert in the city, saying that 23 of the 60 health institutions with ICUs are already at 100 percent capacity.
The government secretary, who is serving as acting mayor while Claudia Lopez is on vacation, said all non-essential retail establishments will be shuttered in those three neighborhoods, which will be under a strict curfew from 8:00 pm to 5:00 am.
Establishments deemed essential, including supermarkets, pharmacies and stores selling basic necessities, will be exempt from the daytime restrictions. The sale of alcoholic beverages also will be prohibited on weekends.
Only one person per household will allowed outside to buy essential items, although the mobility restrictions will not apply to health care providers, caregivers and law-enforcement personnel.
Colombia’s deputy health minister, Luis Alexander Moscoso, said of the new quarantines that the Andean nation is suffering the “consequences of a very difficult December in which a percentage of the population did not heed recommendations” for proper hygiene and social distancing.
Corcho said she welcomes the new measures but cautioned that they must be accompanied by a basic-income policy for those who will be unable to work for those two weeks.
“There’s a toll on the economy, on families, on small- and medium-sized businesses, and these proposals ... if they’re not accompanied by subsidy and basic-income policies could generate rejection among citizens,” she said.
Similar concerns were expressed by Maria Martinez, a restaurant owner in Suba who told EFE she fears her employees will suffer as a result of the new quarantine.
“You have to heed the measures because it’s for the good of everyone. Even so, it’s really tough for us because small business owners receive absolutely no assistance,” she said.
Martinez said that during the initial coronavirus quarantine, which began on March 20 and lasted for six months, her employees were reduced to working just one or two days a week.
“Once again they’re going to be left with nothing. I’m worried for them, the people who work with me, more than I am about myself,” she added.
Tighter pandemic restrictions also have been imposed on citizens in other regions of Colombia, a country where 1,675,820 people have tested positive for the coronavirus and the number of COVID-19-related deaths now stands at nearly 44,000.
Colombia, meanwhile, is once again requiring a negative PCR test result from all people entering the country from abroad, Moscoso told local media on Monday. That measure had been lifted, but a citizen in December successfully sued to have it reinstated for people arriving by plane.
Corcho said that measure never should have been lifted because it is a “minimal epidemiological barrier in a country like Colombia that is doing less testing than it should.”
“That’s the reality we have now and, in that sense, we have to resume something that the national government and the health ministry shouldn’t have abandoned,” she added.