Colombia to extend coronavirus restrictions as infections rise

Nightly curfews will vary depending on intensive care unit occupancy rates in various Colombian cities, president says.

Colombia has reported more than 2.4 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 63,900 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

Colombia will extend coronavirus-related curfews in various cities across the country, President Ivan Duque has announced, as intensive care unit admissions have increased amid a surge in infections.

In remarks shared on social media, Duque said on Sunday that the restrictions would vary based on ICU occupancy rates.

The curfews will be in place from Monday and continue through April 19, he said.

“It’s clear that … some municipalities have shown increases in recent weeks and there also exists the risk of a new national increase in the coming weeks,” Duque said. “We must act, prevent and take appropriate decisions.”

Colombia had already repeatedly warned people not lower their guard during the Easter holiday and put in place weekend curfews.

The country has reported more than 2.4 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 63,900 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally – and it is one of several in Latin America seeing a surge in infections.

Colombian cities with an ICU occupancy above 85 percent will have a curfew from 6pm through 5am local time, while those at between 80-85 percent capacity will have curfews beginning at 8pm.

Curfews will start at 10pm in cities with 70-79 percent occupancy, while those between 50-69 percent will be restricted from midnight until 5am.

Bogota, the country’s capital, had ICU occupancy rates of 65.5 percent as of Saturday evening, while coastal cities including Barranquilla were at about 90 percent.

Duque also said Bogota and several other Colombian cities were under observation due to rising infections and deaths.

Several countries across Latin America have seen a rise in COVID-19 infections, deaths and hospitalisations in recent weeks, while many also are struggling to secure vaccines to inoculate their populations.

In Chile, residents have raised concerns about the economic toll of another strict, government-imposed lockdown, which was recently put in place to stem rising cases.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has faced widespread criticism and rebuke as COVID-19 deaths soared to a record high last month. Brazilian hospitals have been pushed to their limits as younger patients are getting sicker with the virus.

Colombia was the first country in the Americas to receive COVID-19 vaccines through the United Nations-backed COVAX programme, receiving 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on March 1.

The country began its inoculation campaign in February and it has administered nearly 2.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far.

The head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa Etienne, last week said securing vaccines was the region’s largest challenge.

An elderly man receives his first dose of China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine in Bogota, Colombia, last month [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

“A large part of this is due to delays in production as manufacturers rush to scale up capacity. But we are also seeing far too many examples of vaccine nationalism, which limits global availability even further,” Etienne said during a news briefing on March 31.

“The current system is hard-wired for inequity and that is not acceptable. Vaccines should be available to all who need them, regardless of where they live.”

As of March 30, Etienne said 124 million people in the Americas had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine jab, while more than 58 million others were fully inoculated.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies