Colombia Covid Deaths Surge Toward 100,000 as Economy Reopens

Protest-wracked Colombia is fast on track to surpass 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 as the government tries to balance letting citizens work — and eat — with protecting them from the pandemic by reopening large swathes of the economy.

A slow vaccination rollout and social upheaval have meant that infections and mortality in Colombia continue to rise. Just in the past five days, the country of 50 million has marked new records in daily deaths, registering as many as 599 fatalities on Tuesday alone. At the current rate, Colombia will hit 100,000 deaths as soon as Sunday.

Colombia has the fourth-highest per-capita death rate in the world over the past week, among more than 125 countries tracked by Bloomberg. New daily cases have topped 29,000 this month, threatening to overwhelm the health system, which is already facing shortages of supplies, including precious oxygen. Lockdowns and the closing of borders with neighboring countries failed to ease the crisis, but hobbled the economy.

Third Wave

Colombia close to following Brazil, Mexico, Peru in topping 100,000 deaths

Source: Colombia’s Health Ministry


Latin America has seen more than 35 million infected with the coronavirus, and more than 1 million reported dead. Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa Etienne said recently that this year has been worse than last for the region. She called for an urgent increase in vaccination, warning that controlling the virus will take years otherwise. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization asked wealthy nations that have pledged to donate 1 billion vaccine doses to prioritize Latin America.

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The situation is particularly fraught in Colombia, where the proportion of those living in poverty swelled during the pandemic to more than 42%. Colombia’s economy suffered the deepest crash in its history last year, leaving millions no longer able to afford three meals per day, according to the national statistics agency.

Since April, the Andean nation has been roiled with weeks of anti-government protests. Set off by a plan to raise taxes on the middle class, which was later withdrawn, the demonstrations have morphed into a mass movement with a range of grievances including police brutality, corruption and inequality.

Thousands went into the streets, and clashes with security forces left more than 40 dead. There have been billions of dollars in losses after roadblocks hit supply chains and forced thousands of companies to shut, threatening to derail the fragile recovery.

Now, with mortality rising to 193.8 deaths per 100,000 people, President Ivan Duque said recently that “we need to be aware that in the last weeks this situation has deteriorated, given the mass gatherings that have happened in different parts of our geography.”

To soothe the restive population, the government is reopening the economy and began easing mobility restrictions this month. Schools, universities and most businesses can operate without schedule restrictions. Cities with intensive-care-unit occupancy below 85% are allowed to hold sports events and concerts as long as no more than a quarter of the venue’s capacity is used.

The government is correcting an “erroneous” policy that resulted in the loss of 5 million jobs, of which only half have been recovered, according to Jorge Restrepo, an economics professor at Bogota’s Javeriana University.

“This shift in the health policy is right in seeking the economy’s recovery,” he said. “Lockdowns aren’t effective, especially in an economy where the majority live hand to mouth.”

But doctors and scientists say the nation is facing the worst of the pandemic. More than 100 medical and scientific associations published a letter June 7 pointing to a health system that is overwhelmed and warned that deaths could soon reach more than 800 a day if the economy’s reopening isn’t delayed.

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