Despite five months in prison, the number of cases in Colombia is exploding

While Colombia went into lockdown on March 25, 2020, the number of people infected with the new coronavirus has increased exponentially for several weeks, as have deaths. Public health experts interviewed by France 24 presented various explanations.

According to the Colombian Ministry of Healthmore than 541,000 positive cases and 17,300 deaths have been registered since the beginning of March. By comparison, the country had more than 84,440 cases and 2,800 deaths two months earlier. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Colombia is now one of the countries with the highest number of new cases per day.

This situation may come as a surprise after five months of inclusion, especially since deaths were still on the fingers of one hand when it was implemented nationally on 25 March 2020. Public health experts interviewed by France 24 also consider this early action sensible, so as not to say that the use of the mask quickly became widespread in the public sphere. But everyone assures that strict compliance with the containment lasted only a month, which partly explains the gradual increase in the number of people infected with Covid-19.

Economic sectors licensed to operate

As of April 27, the government thus approved the resumption of operations in the manufacturing industry and sectors with more than 4 million employees. Then many other sectors – with the exception of too fast – could function in turn. “The authorities have listed more than 40 exceptions, including one relating to ‘professional, technical and service activity,'” said Herman Bayona, president of Bogota Medical College: “In principle, anything is allowed. “Result: the capital’s streets are swarming with people.

Many experts also emphasize the sometimes “contradictory” discussion between the authorities. “On the one hand, we tell people to stay at home, but on the other hand, there are all these exceptions, or the days without VAT, that had been decided by the government so that people go to the big stores,” continues Herman Bayona. Intended to stimulate the economy, these days had been widely criticized, as they had generated crowds in stores on June 19 and July 3.

Other “inconsistencies” are also pointed out, such as considering reactivating certain national flights, open restaurants or schools, while the peak of the pandemic has not yet been reached. “If people have the impression that everything is listening to the authorities, it should come as no surprise that they are less vigilant,” said Carolina Corcho, vice president of the Colombian Medical Federation.

In central Bogotá, many no longer respect the containment of 9 August 2020. © Chloé Lauvergnier

Informal workers who cannot respect confinement

Another factor that explains why the containment is ultimately a bit respected: about half of Colombians work in the informal sector, day to day, for example as street vendors or recyclers. Many of them are therefore forced to continue working on the streets, in an attempt to get past, as the support provided by the authorities is insufficient to keep them at home. Many pieces of red cloth, hanging from houses, are also visible in some neighborhoods, meaning their residents do not have enough to eat.

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A red shirt symbolizing hunger hung on the window of a house in Bogotá, April 24, 2020.
A red shirt symbolizing hunger hung on the window of a house in Bogotá, April 24, 2020. © Chloé Lauvergnier

In addition, some regret “indiscipline” for part of the population. “Family and friendship ties are very strong in our culture, so many continue to see each other, despite the restrictions,” says Juan Carlos Eslava, head of a master’s degree in public health at the Faculty of Medicine at National University. The local press regularly mentions the interruption of secret parties by the police, although individuals who break jail are generally rarely punished.

Deficiencies in the health system

Finally, all experts interviewed by France 24 consider that the current situation in Colombia is also linked to the shortcomings of its health system, which is largely privatized, unequal and “slightly focused on prevention”. While the majority of Covid-19 screening tests are performed by private mutuals, the delays that exist between the moment a person wants to be tested, the performance of the test, since the result, generally known “10 to 20 days later”.

Disinfection gel for residents of Chapinero, a district of Bogotá, on May 23, 2020. Although there are initiatives to limit the spread of the virus, doctors regret that the Colombian health system in general is "a bit focused on prevention".
Disinfection gel for the residents of Chapinero, a district of Bogotá, on May 23, 2020. Although there are initiatives to limit the spread of the virus, doctors regret that the Colombian health system in general is “a bit focused on prevention”. © Chloé Lauvergnier

In addition, they deplore the lack of surveillance of infected people and people who have been in contact with them, which should be tested more systematically. “It is an important element in breaking the chain of transmission,” explains Juan Carlos Eslava, who also emphasizes the inequalities between large cities and regions, which are less equipped with hospitals and medical equipment.

While the peak of the pandemic is expected in September in Colombia, doctors regret that the five months of confinement did not allow the health system to be better prepared to face it.