President Ivan Duque announced a $1.5 billion injection into Colombia’s healthcare system and emergency subsidies for the poor on Sunday as the country is set to go into quarantine to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.
The measures are part of a major offensive that seeks to prevent the pandemic causing a catastrophe in Colombia where the healthcare system was already on the brink of collapse and the quarantine will deprive many of their livelihood.
Starvation prevention programs
In his second ever television show, Duque announced a series of one-time subsidies that will be distributed this week to prevent a crisis among the country’s poor.
On Wednesday, the first day of the quarantine, some 1.7 million elderly people will be able to collect a stipend of 240 thousand pesos ($60) so they can “anticipate resources at a time that is going to be very important.”
The government plans to distribute food supplies to some 250,000 elderly people on April 6.
The president said that 2.6 million households who are part of the so-called “Families in Action” program will receive an extra stipend on Thursday to get them through the 19-day quarantine.
This means that on average, depending on the number of children, families will receive about 334,000 pesos ($80), which will allow them to overcome some of these difficulties.
President Ivan Duque
On Friday, “we will make a transfer that also has the additional component for about 712,000 pesos ($175) to the 105 thousand poor young people who take part in the ‘Youth in Action” program.
These subsidies, said Duque, “seek to protect more than 10 million Colombians,” or one fifth of the country’s population, from starvation during the 19-day quarantine.
Financial injection for healthcare
The country’s public healthcare system, which is expected to come under major pressure, will receive a COP6 trillion ($1.5 billion) injection, according to Duque.
This so-called “Full Stop Scheme,” the president said, seeks to pay all outstanding debts to hospitals that have accumulated over the years and have put many on the brink of bankruptcy.
The payment of these outstanding debts should allow the hospitals to cover the necessary costs and pay personnel ahead of the first major impact of the pandemic that is expected between one and two weeks from now.
Unprecedented action ahead of an unprecedented crisis
The public investments come days after the president announced the quarantine that will take full effect on Wednesday.
The announced investments for the poor ought to consolidate the support of the opposition, which has expressed its support for the drastic measures to prevent an unmanageable outbreak that could cause thousands of deaths.
On Saturday, Duque held a joint press conference with Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez, one of his most powerful critics, in an unprecedented attempt to confront the crisis in coordination with all political forces and authorities.
Lopez and other critics had criticized Duque’s initially slow response, but unanimously endorsed the president’s decision to go into quarantine as the country braces for the arguably the biggest threat to institutional stability in recent memory.
The emergency spending measures are backed by a national emergency decreed by the government last week.