Colombia risks reopening economy amid worst of pandemic

Bogota/Medellin, Jun 8 (EFE).- In a risky attempt to revive the economy amid the worst spike in Covid-19 infections and deaths, Bogota and Medellin – among other Colombian cities – on Tuesday lifted restrictions on sectors closed since the start of the pandemic, including evening leisure activities and certain in-person sports events.

After the deadliest two months of the pandemic so far and an initial week in June where the figures looked no better – with more than 500 new cases each day and historic records being set in terms of new infections – the country has now suffered a total of almost 3.6 million Covid-19 cases and 92,496 deaths.

The Health Ministry approved a decree in which it permitted – starting on June 1 – the “reactivation” of portions of the economy with the aim of stimulating job creation, one of the factors that could mitigate the poverty into which much of the country has been plunged and which has sparked nationwide protests since April 28.

“Now we can open for normal business hours,” Gigliola Aycardi, a founding partner of the Bodytech gymnasium company, told EFE on Tuesday.

She said that by “August we can return to the 2019 numbers. (2020) was a very difficult year. Sales in 2020 were just 30 percent, we’re hoping to be at 100 percent in the second quarter.”

Along with greater freedom in setting business hours, now that the curfew has been lifted, the move will also provide a boost to the nightlife sector, given that the dry law for bars and restaurants has been lifted, and now cultural and sports events can be held, along with reopening the discotheques.

Thus, 10,000 people will be able to attend the South American elimination between Colombia and Argentina in the coastal city of Barranquilla, which was selected by Colombian authorities as a pilot project for the reopening with favorable health conditions.

Despite the fact that Bogota is the epicenter of the pandemic in Colombia and a few days ago surpassed a million local cases, the city government feels it is necessary to reopen the economy because the need to create jobs is “pressing.”

“We’re lifting the curfew, the dry law, there are no restrictions for the majority of sectors with the exception of the gastrobars, which will go until 1 am,” the secretary for economic development in the Bogota district, Carolina Duran, told EFE.

However, the joy over the reopening is not universal. She said that “there are still no discotheques, there are still no big shows” and, in the case of soccer, that sport will continue being played but no fans will be allowed in the stands.

Those sectors will only be able to return to unrestricted operations when the city is moved from its current red alert status to yellow alert, when intensive care units bed occupancy drops below 85 percent and the national government allows those sectors to become pilot projects.

Barranquilla, which apparently has passed the worst period of the pandemic, last week began reopening all economic sectors that, until that time, had been restricted because of the pandemic.

Public and private events have been authorized now, including concerts, large-scale public and sports events, along with reopening the discos, although they must all continue to abide by biosecurity rules – that is, maximum 25 percent capacity when holding events, provided that ICU bed occupancy remains below 85 percent and no events are held with more than 50 people.

Medellin also has joined the reopening as per a “new pact” for social and economic recovery with the aim of regenerating 15,000 jobs, or 50 percent of the ones lost in that city since the start of the pandemic.

“Today, we’re beginning a process of safe reactivation. The curfews have been lifted in Medellin,” said the city’s mayor, Daniel Quintero.

The reopening will allow some 3,000 commercial establishments, including restaurants, gastrobars and bars, to open without restrictions, and it marks the end of measures such as the curfew, the dry law and the so-called “pico y cedula” program whereby people have beenallowed to venture out in public on certain days as per the last digit in their ID card number.

The city, which has still not gotten through the critical phase that began in April with the collapse of the local hospital system, is preparing for the International Tango Festival, which will be held outdoors from June 24-30, while the Colombiamoda and Colombiatex fashion fairs will hold their catwalk and other activities from July 27-29.

Despite the optimism of some, the scientific, academic and medical communities have issued a call to the government to “delay” the nationwide reopening.

In a statement, they said that the “current moment is the least opportune for starting an economic reopening” in Colombia and to do so epidemiological measures and conditions must be much better than they are right now.

These groups say that the country is suffering under the impact of a progressive climb in the third spike of the pandemic with high indices of deaths and infections, the collapse of the hospital network and the lack of bottled oxygen and other vital medical supplies, among other problems.

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