A day after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that a hasty lifting of restrictions to curb the coronavirus could lead to a “deadly resurgence,” Colombia’s health minister on Saturday proposed to do exactly that.
In an interview with newspaper El Espectador, Health Minister Fernando Ruiz said the government wants to relax restrictions at the end of the quarantine on April 26.
This would be between three and four weeks before the projected saturation of intensive care units in Colombia and a recipe for disaster, according to WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
I know that some countries are already planning the transition out of stay-at-home restrictions. WHO wants to see restrictions lifted as much as anyone. At the same time, lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence.
WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Notwithstanding, Ruiz told El Espectador the government was considering implementing an “intelligent lockdown” at the end of the current quarantine.
We seek to implement a flexible quarantine, but with all the precautions. The number one objective is to avoid deaths, and by this we mean both those that the virus may cause and those that the crisis itself may produce. We have a range of strategies that we have been using to protect the populations most at risk and to slow the spread of the virus, such as isolation for the over-70s, closure of schools and universities, cancellation of events, physical distancing and quarantine for most of the population.
Health Minister Fernando Ruiz
When President Ivan Duque proposed a similar “intelligent lockdown” earlier this month, the backlash was such that the president was forced to announce an extension two days later.
This time, regional and local governments didn’t even bother responding to Ruiz as they seem to have stopped taking orders from Bogota.
The Colombian Medical Federation FMC) did respond, calling the health minister “incoherent,” claiming the number of infections continues to grow exponentially.
The curve is not flattening out; it is still rising, thank goodness the government did not implement the so-called ‘intelligent isolation’ of the president.
Colombian Medical Federation director Sergio Isaza
FMC director Sergio Isaza is furious with Ruiz, because the government “does not provide the necessary elements for health professionals to be protected while working during this pandemic.”
Instead of talking about relaxing restrictions, Ruiz “should carry out sufficient coronavirus diagnostics” that would allow a more accurate picture of the spread of the virus in Colombia that would help prevent unnecessary deaths, said Isaza.
The National Health Service (INS) said Friday it had increased its daily capacity to test and diagnose samples of suspected coronavirus infections from 1,600 to 5,000 between March 6 and Friday.
On Saturday, however, the health service reported the results of some 2,500 tests, raising questions about what happened with the other half of the tests the INS is said to be analyzing.
The controversial handling of the crisis by the Duque administration initially led to the rebellion of local and regional governments, and later medical professionals.
With weeks to go before the situation becomes critical, it is uncertain how much Duque is able to maintain authority.