Time and reflection change the sight little by little ’till we come to understand.
My phone notifies me that I have another whatsapp message. I hesitate, wondering if it’s news from an old friend abroad or from my local contact who’s keeping me updated on steps the Colombian government is taking to fight the rapid spread of the new coronavirus here in my adopted country of Colombia.
Over the past two months, many of us have had the good fortune of watching from a safe distance as lives were turned upside down in other parts of the world. That’s no longer the case, as COVID-19 has continued to spread rapidly, with confirmed cases now being reported in 185 countries, areas or territories according to the WHO.
The initial incompetent reactions – or lack of action – from top leaders in the USA, the UK and here in Colombia have caused conflicts and chaos which in turn have slowed any positive steps toward controlling the outbreak before it began spreading from person to person within local communities. Despite earlier warnings from both the military, intelligence community and international medical professionals, many national governments have shown themselves to be unprepared and unwilling to listen to voices of reason coming from regional and local officials aware of the real-time changes taking place on the ground.
In my local region of Antioquia, last night marked our first mandatory 3-day lock-down, a test to identify the service gaps prior to a longer period of quarantine. After taking action on their own, local and regional leaders are now finding Colombia’s national government more conducive to cooperating with local authorities. Although the confirmed case numbers here remain much lower than in the USA or Western Europe, medical experts are demanding action – now.
Fearing that even a mild epidemic could cause the country’s underfunded healthcare system to collapse, the national government has finally heeded the call of health experts and local leaders, calling for a nation-wide lock-down from March 25 to April 12. Colombia’s borders are now closed and all international flights into and out of the country will cease operations on March 25.
Unfortunately, these actions have come too late as infections are no longer limited to international travelers and have begun to spread within communities. The situation on the ground seems to be changing at lightening speed and we can no longer fool ourselves with the belief that the wolf will remain on someone else’s doorstep.
Colombia’s second largest city, Medellín, has some of South America’s best hospitals. Still, the government fears the country’s healthcare system could collapse under the stress of even a mild COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Henry Lewis