Colombia reaches 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 as cases rise
BOGOTA – Colombia reached 100,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 this week, becoming the tenth country in the world to pass the grim milestone.
The South American nation of 50 million people has seen an increasing number of daily cases since April and over the past seven days it has recorded the world’s third-largest per capita death rate from COVID-19, data shows published by the University of Oxford.
On Monday evening, President IvÃ¡n Duque blamed most of the deaths on anti-government protests that began in late April, saying “more than 10,000 deaths could have been avoided” if Colombians had not staged large rallies in the seven last few weeks.
But epidemiologists in Colombia said it was too early to say how much the protests have impacted the current spike in deaths from COVID-19.
“The protests have definitely played a role” in the contagion of coronaviruses, said Diego Rosselli, professor of epidemiology at Javeriana University in Bogota. “But at this time, giving a figure on how many deaths they have caused is pure speculation.”
More than 25,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Colombia since May 1, about a quarter of those who have died from the disease since the first case of the coronavirus was recorded in Colombia in March of last year.
Rosselli said more contagious variants of the virus may have contributed to the sharp acceleration in death rates, as has happened in neighboring countries like Argentina and Brazil.
Fatigue from sanitary measures – like the use of face masks – overcrowded living conditions and fewer restrictions on gatherings have also fueled contagion in Colombia and elsewhere in South America. The region represents only 5% of the world’s population, but accounts for almost a quarter of all deaths from COVID-19.
In Colombia, the increase in cases comes as the government lifts some of the latest restrictions it had put in place to control the spread of the coronavirus and allows nightclubs, bars and cinemas to open for the first time in more than a year.
Cities like Medellin and Bogota are also gearing up to host trade shows and music events that will be attended by thousands of people, while 10,000 people recently attended a soccer game in the coastal town of Barranquilla.
City governments say they have no choice but to allow these events in order to find jobs and help the economy get back on its feet.
Colombia’s unemployment rate doubled last year as the government put in place several containment measures to slow the contagion and the country’s GDP fell by 7%.
Vaccination accelerated in June with up to 350,000 doses administered in one day, but only 10% of the Colombian population is fully vaccinated.
Doctors fear recent decisions to allow more gatherings will increase the number of critically ill patients arriving at hospitals, who are already struggling to cope. In Bogota, Cali and Medellin, more than 95% of hospital intensive care beds are already occupied.
Paola Cabra, an emergency doctor at Samaritana University Hospital in Bogota, said the best thing would be to return to containment to reduce infections.
âBut in a country like Colombia, you can’t do that,â Cabra said. âMost of the people here work independently for a living and cannot afford to sit at home and do nothing. ”
The hospital’s 19 intensive care units for COVID-19 patients have been full for weeks, forcing staff to add ventilators and other equipment to emergency beds.
âI wish I was wrong,â Cabra said. “But it looks like the situation will get worse in the coming weeks.”
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