Colombia’s government has vastly understated the total number of people who have contracted the coronavirus, according to various sources including medical practitioners, the Inspector General and high-ranking members of the Colombian Medical Federation (FMC).
If correct, this news flies in the face of declarations made by Health Minister Fernando Ruiz on Monday that Colombia is now experiencing an evident “flattening of the curve” with regards to infections.
Either the Ministry of Health is not receiving data from individual departments, health practitioners are mistaken in their conclusions or the government is deliberately painting a positive picture in order to speed up the process to send people back to work and stifle the economic free-fall that Colombia is experiencing.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a doctor in Santa Marta revealed that for the entire department of Magdalena, the number of cases recorded was 12. This number for Magdalena had not, until recently, increased in the space of two weeks despite the fact that laboratories had sent between 100 and 130 tests for revision in Bogota.
What this shows is that there is no accurate and reliable data detailing the behavior of transmissions of the coronavirus in Colombia and the public is being deliberately misled, an action that could have catastrophic consequences in a country with a notoriously precarious healthcare system.
There are several reasons for concern which stem from this revelation: that the delay from testing to diagnosis (first promised in 48 hours, then six days, nine days and now a minimum of 12 days) means that potentially infected citizens return home to quarantine with their families, thus endangering others; that priority is being given to principal cities such as Bogota and Medellin; the bottleneck in the time that it takes for reports to arrive back to their original locations means that by downplaying the numbers, people are being lulled into complacency and putting themselves at others at risk of infection.
President Ivan Duque himself contributed to an environment of false calm on Sunday when he spoke of introducing an “intelligent lockdown” to permit people to return to work under certain conditions.
His plan was widely criticized and resulted in the president later extending the national quarantine another two weeks until April 26, following advice provided by the medical community.
Of further concern is that the reliability of the testing process, as it has been reported that many coronavirus patients in Santa Marta and elsewhere have been asymptomatic in the tests but show all of the tell-tale signs of the illness.
The polymerase chain reaction test (PCR), which detects the coronavirus, has also presented flaws in that it has a success rate sensitivity of around 60 per cent.
A number of Colombian doctors have reported that some carriers of the virus have been tested as many as on five occasions before the tests returned positive.
Presently, official numbers provided by the National Health Institute (INS), shows there to have been 50 fatalities from the virus and a total of 1780 people infected in Colombia.
Considering that Inspector General Fernando Carrillo has also refuted the official figures as being a week out of date and members of the FMC have announced a press conference for Tuesday in which they plan to release “worrying” conclusions from independent polls they have conducted, it appears that President Duque may have to reflect on the inaccurate data being provided to the Colombian public.