Colombia’s deadliest Covid-19 month draws to somber close

By Klarem Valoyes Gutierrez

Bogota, Apr 30 (EFE).- Colombia is bringing down the curtain on its worst month since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, with 10,000 fatalities in April, record daily death tolls in recent weeks and intensive care units filled with seriously ill patients.

The country is facing its most critical moment of the pandemic despite the optimism generated in February by the launch of a nationwide vaccination campaign and the administration thus far of roughly 5 million doses.

The stretch from April 19 through Thursday, when a record 505 fatalities were recorded, constituted the deadliest 11 days of the Covid-19 emergency in Colombia.

New deaths on the last day of the month, meanwhile, are sure to lift the total number of fatalities in April to more than 10,000, or nearly one-seventh of all deaths in the Andean nation since the start of the pandemic.

April kicked off with the Easter week holidays and is ending with crowded demonstrations against President Ivan Duque’s controversial tax overhaul plan, and experts say the big gatherings of people are exacerbating the health crisis.

“We’re not going to have ICU beds (in two or three weeks). What we didn’t see in the (two) earlier peaks – like in other countries where people were dying in the street, were dying at home – we may start seeing (here),” said Dr. Johanna Martinez, who works at an ICU in Bogota’s El Tunal Hospital with no available beds.

She told Efe that in recent days patients have died after not spending even a single night in the ICU, many of them young people between the ages of 20 and 30.

“It’s been a year now, and we haven’t learned that this can kill, and, well, we’ll see what happens in 15 or 20 days,” she said in reference to the large numbers of people on the street.

During the 14 months of the health emergency, Colombia has registered 2.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 73,230 deaths attributed to Covid-19. And now the pandemic is overwhelming the country’s best-equipped and most specialized hospitals in the cities of Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla and Bucaramanga.

“Although the country has made an enormous effort, the virus is stronger than a government’s (capacity to fight it). The situation is extremely complicated. The ICUs are full, health personnel are overwhelmed and (there are) a number of adverse effects we didn’t foresee a year ago,” Ivan Dario Velez, a scientist and researcher at Medellin’s University of Antioquia, said in an interview with Efe.

To slow the spread of the virus, authorities in Colombia’s biggest cities have imposed new restrictions that include nighttime curfews and stay-at-home orders on weekends.

Those measures, however, thus far have failed to lower the high number of new daily cases in cities like Bogota, Medellin and Cali.

Authorities this month also confirmed the circulation of multiple genomes of the so-called British and Brazilian variants of the coronavirus, although it remains unclear to what extent they are driving the higher daily death tolls.

“How many of the (more than) 500 deaths we had yesterday can be explained by those variants? We don’t know because there’s no large-scale national variant tracking program,” Velez said. EFE


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