Colombia eases lockdown measures despite 3rd virus peak

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia moved Thursday to reactivate its economy by easing several lockdown measures even though it is still fighting a third peak in the pandemic, which has been aggravated by a month of crowded antigovernment street protests.

The Health Ministry said that Colombia will no longer require a negative coronavirus test from travelers entering the country by air and that students will return to classrooms once the vaccination of teachers is completed in July.

The ministry also announced that concerts, large sporting events and nightclubs at 25% capacity will be allowed in cities with less than 85% occupancy of ICU beds. This could rise to 50% of capacity in cities that have vaccinated 70% of their population in the first stage, which includes older adults, health workers, teachers and patients with chronic diseases.

Colombia, with 50 million inhabitants, has received 14 million doses of vaccine from Pfizer, Sinovac and AstraZeneca, and it has applied 10.3 million doses, according to government figures.

“This does not mean we cannot have a fourth peak,” Health Minister Fernando Ruiz said in a statement. “We will continue with the use of masks, hand washing and distancing.”

Colombia’s business sector celebrated the easing of restrictions, but some healthcare workers in cities such as Bogota, Cali and Medellin said they were exhausted with ICUs reaching occupancy rates of 96% to 99%.

“At the beginning of the pandemic they called us angels, the super protectors of these patients,” said Fabián Pardo Rodríguez, a nursing assistant at La Samaritana University Hospital. “As of this moment with what is happening we feel completely alone.”

The hospital, located in the center of Bogotá, is at full capacity and created a place called the “peace room” where families can view the lifeless bodies of their loved ones from a distance.

Doctors fear a worsening of the pandemic with the country reporting a record 28,600 coronavirus infections in 24 hours, bringing total confirmed cases to 3.4 million. There have been 90,300 deaths related to COVID-19, the disease that can be caused by the virus.