Uncertainty in Colombia over coronavirus after testing machine goes kaput

Information about the spread of the coronavirus in Colombia has temporarily become unreliable after the main machine testing for possible infections broke.

The technical failure was a disaster for the National Health Institute (INS), whose machine was able to do 100 tests per hour broke down on Friday.

While technicians were repairing the machine, INS workers were forced to test the incoming samples manually, causing a major delay.

The INS reported on Saturday that the machine had been repaired allowing the institute that has been at the forefront of confronting the crisis to catch up.

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Universities throughout Colombia have been setting up testing equipment to support the INS before test requests saturate the health institute’s machine, which allegedly has the capacity to do 1,600 tests a day.

The technical failure happened in the early stages of the spread of the disease, allowing the INS and universities to catch up quickly.

With little more than 700 cases and 10 deaths confirmed on Sunday, the real capacity of the INS and its university partners has yet to be put to the test.

Coronavirus in Colombia tracker

The health institute expects one third of Colombia’s 50 million inhabitants at some point to be infected.

The country is currently in quarantine to slow down the spreading of the disease while the government makes emergency funds available to rapidly ramp up the country’s healthcare system.

Meanwhile, citizen initiatives seek to complement government action; demobilized FARC rebels have begun producing masks, for example, while Medellin engineers have begun developing low-cost mechanical ventilators in an attempt to dramatically increase intensive care units’ capacities throughout the country.

The biggest fear is not so much the virus, but the stability of the country’s healthcare system, which was already on the brink of collapse, largely due to corruption.

So far, the hospitals are able to handle the coronavirus as only 66 of the 686 infected people have been hospitalized and 33 are in intensive care.

This is a fraction compared to European countries where the virus arrived much earlier. Spain, which has a similar number of inhabitants as Colombia, saw the number of infections increase by almost 6,900 cases on Sunday alone.

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