Coronavirus cases in Colombia: March 22 update

By Steve Hide March 22, 2020

Our regular roundup of the country’s COVID-19 cases.

 Coronavirus cases in Colombia
Coronavirus cases in Colombia to March 22

Here are some key events since our last Colombia coronavirus update:

  • Two deaths in Colombia from coronavirus
  • 56 new coronavirus cases in Colombia since last update (March 20)
  • Most infections in the 20 to 29 year age range
  • Colombia prepares for nationwide lock-down

Sadly, March 21 saw the announcement of Colombia’s first official COVID-19 deaths in Cartagena and Cali.

The first announced case was of a 58-year-taxi driver from Cartagena. The patient died on March 16, but was only confirmed as a coronavirus victim yesterday, according to the Ministry of Health. The victim’s sister and a carer have also tested positive for the virus.

All our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia.

According to the health ministry, the taxi driver fell sick after driving Italian tourists around the historic city of Cartagena on March 4. He also had chronic untreated illnesses – diabetes and high blood pressure – which contributed to the severity of his coronavirus illness.

The Cali death is of a 70-year-old patient who had underlying health problems. The female victim’s husband is also hospitalised and a confirmed COVID-19 case. Health experts suspect the couple could have been infected by their daughter who recently returned from overseas.

In Bogotá, cafes are still open for take-aways, left but roads, are empty right. Photos: Brendan Corrigan
Bogotá is in a trial lock-down. Cafes are still open for take-aways, left, but roads are empty as most people stay indoors, right. Photos: Brendan Corrigan

Bogotá is still the focus – but national spread

Latest data from the Instituto Nacional de Salud (INS) shows the majority of cases recorded in Bogotá (88), but there is now a wider spread across the country, with 16 departments now affected.

Most cases are still imported from people arriving from overseas, (142 of them), and there are now eight cases ‘under study’, which means the health authorities have yet to find a link to an imported case. This suggests that community spreading of the virus (i.e. not related directly to someone coming from outside the country) could be taking place.

So far, most infections are in younger people with 62 cases falling in the 20s age range. Older cases in the more vulnerable over-60 range only total 33 so far. Of the total count of 231, 13 people are currently hospitalised, two have died, one has recovered and 216 are being treated at home.

The only way is up...graph showing Colombia coronavirus cases to March 21
The only way is up…graph showing coronavirus cases in Colombia to March 21. Data source: INS

Colombia: More like Italy or South Korea?

As we mentioned in the previous report is interesting to compare Colombia to Italy and South Korea which are roughly one month ahead in terms of infection dates. One month later both countries have had very different outcomes:

  • Italy has recorded 54,000 cases and 4,800 deaths.
  • South Korea has recorded 8,900 cases and 104 deaths.

Health experts have been scrambling to analyse why Italy’s death rate is so high, with many factors involved.

One theory is that the country was slow to lock down and practice social distancing, thus allowing the virus to spread silently through the young population which tends to be more socially active and show less signs of illness.

The virus then spread rapidly into the older generation – which suddenly did show severe symptoms overwhelming the health system. Italian hospitals cannot cope with the sudden influx of very sick patients, leaving many victims to die.

Testing times

The fact Colombia was late to catch the virus has given the country time to learn from other places, and impose curfews border restrictions very early on in the virus’s progression. But it is too early to say if the population will comply with the measures, and how effective they will be to prevent a health crisis.

According to World Health Organisation another key response to the outbreak is mass testing of people to isolate confirmed cases and find their close contacts to also track and isolate other carriers, as was used successfully in South Korea.

Colombia health authorities recently announced plans to import 50,000 COVID-19 tests from South Korea which will give faster results – within four hours – and speed up case finding and contact tracing.

Colombia enters national quarantine until at least April 13

Meanwhile, there is growing evidence from the severe outbreaks in Europe of the vital importance of enforced social distancing and quarantine measure needed to control outbreaks. Colombia has now declared a national quarantine from March 24 to April 13, which in Bogotá and some nearby departments will join immediately the current four-day lock-down drill ending on March 23.

Colombia to enter complete quarantine

Details are still being finalised by the government, but from what we know so far:

  • All internal flights will stop from midnight on March 23. Most terrestrial transport will also be suspended.
  • Food shops and essential services will operate all over the country, allowing people to buy food and essential supplies during the 20-day quarantine. This is to avoid shortages caused by panic buying.
Dog waking is still allowed (photo: Oli Pritchard). Rolos are reacting to the lock-down with good humour, such as the 'I´m off to Carulla' meme, right.
Dog walking is still allowed (Photo: Oli Pritchard). Rolos are reacting to the lock-down with good humour, such as the ‘I’m off to Carulla’ meme, right.

From what we are experiencing in Bogotá this weekend, people can easily go out on foot to buy food and supplies and walk their pets but must maintain social distancing.

All vehicle traffic and cycling is banned, unless connected to authorized essential activities. Home deliveries of food and supplies, for example Rappi and UberEeats, will all be running.

The Bogotá Post will bring you more details as they come in, and check back here for more Coronavirus case updates. We’ll keep you posted.