Colombia’s government said Saturday that it has begun distributing 500,000 coronavirus tests in Bogota and to 20 of its 32 departments to improve the reliability of its contagion statistics.
The announcement was made by Luis Guillermo Plata, the country’s COVID-19 response chief, who said that the tests will be distributed in line with the number of provinces’ inhabitants.
Medical experts criticized the government of President Ivan Duque last week for announcing a second push to reactivate the country’s economy without having reliable data to responsibly make such a decision.
The National Health Institute (INS) has greatly expanded its testing capacity by adding regional laboratories to its network, but lacked the reagents to let the labs work at full capacity.
Like almost all countries in Latin America, this has led to unreliable infection statistics that, according to experts, may represent less than five to 10 times the real number of infections.
The network of labs will now be able to go from “two, three thousand daily tests to a capacity between 12 and 15 thousand tests a day,” said Plata.
This will allow the national and local governments to “take decisions in real time,” according to the crisis response coordinator.
On Monday, the government wants to allow regions where no coronavirus has been confirmed to be able to request an exemption to an ongoing lockdown.
At the same time, the government will relax restrictions on certain economic sectors also in areas where the virus is confirmed to be spreading.
In all cases, mayors and governors will decide in which speed to do this as they are in charge of their region’s healthcare systems that were already on the brink of collapse before the pandemic.
While the government has been pushing the reactivation of the economy, the local government and the medical sector have been slowing this down to buy more time to, for example, provide healthcare workers with personal protection equipments.
While having one of the largest populations in South America, Colombia has registered considerably less infections than, for example, its neighbors Peru and Ecuador.
According to the INS, 10,500 people were infected since March 6 and 445 people have died. Ecuador’s health authorities confirmed three times as many infections and deaths on Sunday.
Health authorities of Peru, whose population is 60% that of Colombia, reported 65,000 and more than 1,800 deaths.