By Hugo Penso Correa
Barranquilla, Colombia, Nov 7 (efe-epa).- Night falls in this port city and members of a “Covid patrol” go on the alert when they come upon more than a hundred children and their mothers dancing in the street to the strains of reggaeton.
Since March, teams comprising police, health workers, inspectors, immigration authorities and people trained in conflict-resolution have been deployed in Barranquilla to enforce regulations laid down to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are working in a coordinated fashion with City Hall in Barranquilla and the other municipalities in the metropolitan area to stop these parties from turning into virus multipliers, because people under the effects of alcohol are more likely to forget the precautions they need to take,” the head of operations for the Metropolitan Police, Col. Oleskyenio Florez Rincon, tells Efe.
Though the patrols have earned the unflattering nickname of “killjoys” for their willingness to pull the plug on parties and celebrations, that is only one part of their mission.
The units are also responsible for seeing that businesses comply with health protocols.
Officials say that between May 4 and Oct. 31, the patrols made 1,166 visits to shops in Barranquilla, levying 406 fines and shutting down 268 establishments for flouting pandemic rules and lacking valid operating licenses.
Barranquilla was a Covid-19 hot spot over the summer and though the situation has improved since then, Colombia’s fourth-largest city accounts for 41,589 cases and 1,713 deaths.
Recently, a Covid patrol making the rounds in the Las Nieves neighborhood, immortalized in Dominican troubadour Cuco Valoy’s classic “Frutos del carnaval,” encountered a street gathering with more than 150 people, most of them kids.
Attendees were seated very close together and largely ignoring the city’s mask mandate.
“In this kind of situation the first thing we do is the call to the owners of the property where the party is taking place for them to remove all the elements, which is heeded immediately in the majority of cases,” Nelson Patron, head of the municipal Office of Security and Coexistence, told Efe.
Minutes before the stop in Las Nievas, the patrol broke up a family barbecue in the middle of a street in the neighborhood of La Chinita.
The team forced the family to remove the grill and imposed fines of $245 apiece on participants.
Barranquilla residents have a reputation as avid partiers. The city is home to Colombia’s largest Carnival and people seize on any reason for a celebration.
A victory by the local soccer club, Junior, or the Colombian national team, will inevitably bring people out of their homes, but personal and family milestones such as birthdays and anniversaries also give rise to public festivities.
The Covid patrol’s biggest operation on the night in question took place in La Luz, a district in the same part of Barranquilla as Las Nievas and La Chinita, where they shut down two separate parties taking place just 50m (yards) apart on the same street.
A drunk teenager crashed his motorcycle while trying to flee to avoid the fine, Patron said.
During the All Saints’ Day three-day weekend, which included Halloween, authorities in Barranquilla broke up 450 gatherings and imposed 680 fines. EFE hpc/dr