Colombia tightens Covid-19 restrictions

Colombia, which has the third-highest coronavirus death toll in South America, has imposed restrictions on two-thirds of its 50 million citizens for five days in a bid to relieve fast-growing pressure on hospitals.

The country, which detected its first coronavirus case last March, was under lockdown for six months until September, when President Ivan Duque decided to ease stay-at-home measures that had ravaged the economy.

Mask-use was made mandatory as businesses gradually reopened in the country that has registered some 44,700 deaths to Covid-19 to date.

Since the December holiday season, the country has experienced a sharp rise in infections, and there is concern about the emergence of a new, more infectious strain in Britain.

Until midnight next Tuesday, the government said, departments and cities where more than 70 percent of intensive care beds are occupied, will take steps to limit the movement of people, while prohibiting all gatherings — in public or private spaces.

Affected will be some 32 million people.

This included the capital Bogota, with some eight million inhabitants at the center of Colombia’s outbreak, as well as Cali and Medellin.

Bogota, with some 86 percent of intensive care beds occupied, is on “red alert” and under total lockdown until next Tuesday. A night-time curfew will apply thereafter until January 17.

This week, Colombia saw two consecutive days with record new infections — more than 16,800 daily.

High hopes rest on a vaccination campaign the government hopes to kick off next month. It has purchased enough vaccines for 29 million people.

But Colombia’s statistics agency says just over half of Colombians (56 percent) are interested in getting the jab — reflective of a similar reticence in other countries amid a world-wide disinformation campaign about vaccine safety.

Experts have also expressed concern over the logistical challenges of getting vaccines to the most remote regions of Colombia.

Brazil is South America’s hardest-hit country, fast approaching 200,000 deaths, followed by Mexico with almost 130,000. (AFP)