Colombia’s lockdown measures weaken amid surge in COVID-19 cases

Bogotá, May 29 (efe-epa).- Traffic jams in the avenues of Bogotá, a makeshift swimming pool full of people on a dump truck in Medellín and clandestine parties in Cali were Friday a reflection of weakened lockdown measures in Colombia, which is in the midst of an escalation of its coronavirus epidemic.

In the last three days, Colombia has recorded more than 1,000 cases per day and already has 25,366 infected people, of which 822 have died, despite the fact that since Mar. 25 the country has been in compulsory social isolation, a measure that citizens are following less and less – either out of will or necessity.

With the escalation in cases, President Iván Duque authorized on Thursday the extension until July 1 the quarantine that was to end on May 31, but with more exemptions – 43 in total.

The presidential decision maintains the limitation on “the free movement of people and vehicles in the national territory,” but it includes new exceptions, such as that which includes those who carry out “professional, technical and service activities in general.”

“There is no possibility of quarantine with 43 exceptions, there is no isolation with 43 exceptions. What there is, is the authorization of the economic reactivation giving privilege to employment. That is the president’s decision; he assumes the consequences,” said Bogotá Mayor Claudia López during a press conference.

The relaxation of the isolation measures was announced hours before the National Administrative Department of Statistics announced that the unemployment rate for April was 19.8 percent, double that of the same month of the previous year, all due to the economic halt during the lockdown.

With the new provision – which according to the government seeks to guarantee the rights to life, health and survival of Colombians – sectors that by necessity were operating clandestinely without having received authorization, such as hairdressers and other services considered non-essential, will benefit.

“Why continue talking about quarantine if they open up shopping centers and hairdressing salons?” criticized House representative David Racero of the leftist List of Decency.

The mayor of Bogotá, the city with the highest number of infections, charged that the Duque government “ended the quarantine” and that it is “a trick to tell the public that there is preventive isolation” when millions of people are being allowed to go out on the streets, while the presidential decree “confuses and does not care.”

López’s argument is exemplified in Bogotá where traffic jams have returned, or in the makeshift pool in a dump truck that circulated in Medellín in recent days.

In Cali, residents’ lack of discipline in staying home has led the Mayor’s Office to create a “party-hunting” squad to prevent people from attending clandestine encounters such as the sex party held at a house with the participation of at least 20 people in middle of this month.

The situation put on alert the main capitals of the country, where mayors are preparing as they can to reopen important sectors of the economy while trying to control the spread of infection.

For the mayor of Cali, Jorge Iván Ospina, it is impossible for that city, third-largest in Colombia and capital of Valle del Cauca, to resume all its activities at the moment because the numbers of cases “in some sectors are not good” and the city will have to work “to improve them,” he said on Twitter.

Valle del Cauca is the third focus of contagion in the country, with 2,969 cases, of which 2,311 are in Cali, which is why Ospina decided not to allow the reopening of sectors that will be exempt in other cities.

“I enthusiastically believe in the necessary reopening of many ventures and we will do so, but progressively and with strict protocols,” he said.

In the Caribbean coastal city of Barranquilla, which has 1,704 cases, the mayor Jaime Pumarejo said that he will not authorize the activation of more economic sectors from June 1, but five days later, to gain more time to prepare biosafety measures.

“From June 6, we will gradually reactivate the shops and companies authorized by national decree, taking into account the evolution of the crisis, and in agreement with the Ministry of Health,” Pumarejo said in a video.

Another city experiencing a complex situation is Cartagena de Indias, where there are 2,472 cases and more than 100 people have died.

Mayor William Dau is waiting for the authorization of the national government to toughen the quarantine in that Caribbean city where the cases are growing and citizens seem not to be complying with the measures to counter the epidemic.

A different case is that of Medellín, which has 503 infections and three deaths from coronavirus, the lowest number among large Colombian cities, and where a pilot plan to ease the mandatory isolation began last Monday, which included the reopening of the first three shopping malls in the country. EFE-EPA

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