When will things will return to normal in Colombia? We look at South Korea’s and China’s responses to coronavirus – what can Colombia learn from Asia’s success in battling coronavirus?
We have been asked by many Medellin Guru readers, “When will things return to normal in Colombia?” after the nationwide Colombia quarantine.
This is a very difficult question to answer. So, first we look a the current status of coronavirus in Colombia.
This is followed by a review of the successes in Asia in both South Korea and China in dramatically reducing their number of new coronavirus cases. We believe Colombia could learn from the successes in Asia and “flatten the curve” in Colombia even faster and start to to return to a more “normal” life more quickly.
EDITORS NOTE: on May 19, 2020, President Duque confirmed that Colombia is extending the national quarantine for another week until May 31.
The mandatory quarantine in Colombia that started on March 24 has been extended until May 31 and the health emergency in Colombia has been extended until August 31.
The Colombian borders will continue to be closed and there will be no inter-municipal land transport permitted. Also, there will be no domestic flights during this period from June 1 to June 30. But the government is working on protocols for resuming flights in later phases. Also, according to the Minister of transport, international flights will be restricted until August 31.
A new phase will begin from June 1 to 30 with the reactivation of museums, libraries and some other businesses. Also, starting in June, starts an “intelligent lockdown” that would allow the relaxation of restriction of movement measures based on regional conditions. These regional relaxation measures will be expanded “gradually” to recover productive life.
In addition, those over 70 will remain in isolation until June 30. But guidelines will be released so that between June 1 to 30 those over 70 are allowed to have some time outside, with precautions and limitations.
Current Status of Coronavirus in Colombia on May 24, 2020
Colombia Ministerio de Salud (Ministry of Health) reported the number of coronavirus cases in Colombia on May 24 – a total of 21,175 cases with 727 deaths.
The first coronavirus case in Colombia was on March 6, 2020 and by May 24, the number of cases had grown to 21,175 cases. The following chart shows a running 6-day average of new coronavirus cases in Colombia, so you can see the trend of new cases for more than the past month.
Colombian has acted faster than most countries in putting in place measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus:
- March 12 – banned cruise ships to Colombia.
- March 12 – banned events with over 50 people.
- March 14 – closed schools nationwide until April 20.
- March 16 – closed Colombia’s borders.
- March 16 – banned non-nationals and non-resident travelers to Colombia.
- March 16 – banned events with over 50 people.
- March 20 – adults older than 70 in Colombia must stay isolated in homes except to buy groceries and medicines, use health services and access financial services until May 31.
- March 20 – city quarantines in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Cartagena for four days.
- March 23 – banned international travelers to Colombia.
- March 24 – started a nationwide Colombia quarantine and people must stay isolated in homes except one person per family can leave to buy groceries and medicines, use health services and access financial services until April 13. But on April 6, this quarntine was extended to April 26 at 11:59 pm.
- March 24 – banned domestic flights in Colombia until April 13.
The following table compares how many days from the first case of coronavirus in several countries until putting in place measures like closing schools nationwide or closing incoming air travel.
As a result of Colombia rapidly implementing preventive measures, Colombia is experiencing a flatter curve for coronavirus cases than several other countries, as seen in the following graphic (Colombia is the dark blue line at the bottom of the graphic):
Coronavirus Cases in Colombia are NOT Nationwide
By rapidly putting in place measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, it appears that Colombia is being successful in containing the spread of coronavirus throughout all departments and cities in Colombia.
On May 24, 2020, the majority of coronavirus cases – 19,482 cases – (92.0 percent) of the cases in Colombia were in only 10 departments (states) in Colombia out of 33 departments (including the district capital of Bogotá):
- Bogotá DC – 7,211 cases
- Atlántico – 2,774 cases
- Valle del Cauca – 2,425 cases
- Bolivar – 2,267 cases
- Amazonas – 1,450 cases
- Antioquia – 720 cases
- Meta – 968 cases
- Nariño – 709 cases
- Magdelena – 492 cases
- Cundinamarca – 466 cases
Also, on May 24, there were three departments (states) in Colombia without a single coronavirus case: Guainía, Guaviare and Vichada.
Coronavirus Cases by City in Colombia
Also, in terms of cities in Colombia on May 24, 2020, the majority of coronavirus cases – 18,325 cases – (86.5 percent) were in only 18 cities in Colombia:
- Bogotá – 7,211 cases
- Cartagena – 2,117 cases
- Cali – 1,911 cases
- Barranquilla – 1,450 cases
- Leticia – 1,410 cases
- Villavicencio – 932 cases
- Soledad – 812 cases
- San Andrés de Tumaco – 464 cases
- Medellín – 441 cases
- Santa Marta – 273 cases
- Buenaventura – 232 cases
- Malambo – 218 cases
- Pereira – 168 cases
- Soacha – 164 cases
- Ibagué – 149 cases
- Neiva – 141 cases
- Ipiales – 123 cases
- Puebloviejo – 109 cases
Bogotá is the hardest hit city in Colombia with 7,211 cases on May 24, which was 34.1 percent of the coronavirus cases in Colombia. Also, on May 24, there were over 100 cities and towns in Colombia with only a single case reported.
Out of the 140 largest cities in Colombia (based on 2020 population estimates from DANE), on May 24, 2020, the 20 cities in the following table did not have a single coronavirus case:
In addition, there are many cities, towns and pueblos in Colombia that haven’t reported a single coronavirus case.
For example, near Medellín, the pueblos of Abejorral, Jericó, Santa Fe de Antioquia and several others haven’t reported a single coronavirus case, as of May 23, 2020. Reportedly there are over 100 municipalities in Antioquia without a case and these over 100 COVID-19 free municipalities in Antioquia are being permitted to start to lift the quarantine.
Also, on May 24, Medellin Guru reviewed a list of 1,099 municipalities in Colombia and found over 780 that did not have a single coronavirus case.
The over 790 municipalities without a case on May 23 have a total population of 11.9 million, which is approximately 23 percent of the total population of Colombia. And these cities and towns without a case likely will return to normal faster than the biggest cities in Colombia. Already nearly 200 COVID-19 free municipalities in Colombia have been permitted to start to lift the mandatory quarantine.
Some Cities and Towns in Colombia With Cases Are No Longer Experiencing Cases
As of May 24, over 80 of the over 330 cities and towns in Colombia with at least one reported coronavirus case haven’t experienced a new case in over two weeks, as seen in the following table:
The incubation period of coronavirus is 14 days. And Colombia is starting to experience cities and towns with coronavirus cases that haven’t reported a new case in over 14 days, which is a good sign.
So, on May 24, a total of 24 percent out of over 330 cities and towns in Colombia with reported coronavirus cases hadn’t experienced a new case in over 14 days.
When Will Colombia Lift the Quarantine?
The current nationwide quarantine in Colombia was originally scheduled to end on April 13 at midnight. But this quarantine was extended to April 26 at 11:59 pm. On April 20, the national quarantine was extended again to May 11. And was extended a third time to May 25 and a fourth time to May 31 So, the national quarantine is now for 68 days.
However, starting on April 27, the quarantine is being lifted somewhat with the manufacturing and construction sectors of the economy returning to work. Also, people can leave the house for up to 1 hour per day to exercise (walking, jogging and bicycle riding) up to 1 km from their house (this exercise is limited to 2 pm to 3 pm in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley).
With its fast actions, Colombia appears it is being successful in containing the spread of coronavirus throughout Colombia. Does it make sense to continue a quarantine in a city or town in Colombia that hasn’t experienced a single case? Or hasn’t experienced a case in several weeks?
For example, Uribia, a city with a population of over 190,000 people hasn’t yet experienced a coronavirus case. And if Uribia still hasn’t experienced at the end of the quarantine, why should it continue to be under a lock-down quarantine if it has low risk?
On May 24, according to data from the Instituto Nacional de Salud (INS) regarding coronavirus cases in Colombia correlated with a list of the largest cities in Colombia from DANE, 20 of the 140 largest cities in Colombia did not have a single coronavirus case. Also, over 780 municipalities out of 1,099 municipalities in Colombia did not have a case.
Keep in mind the incubation period is 2 to 14 days for coronavirus and the national quarantine in Colombia is for a longer period of 47 days.
So, when this article was published on April 1, we believed that Colombia could assign risk to cities and start to lift the quarantine in low-risk cities and towns. This would permit over a third of Colombia to quickly return to normal or return to some normality.
In terms of municipalities in which coronavirus infections have not yet been confirmed with coronavirus cases, President Duque on April 20 said:
In hundreds of municipalities in Colombia, there have been no cases of COVID-19, so there we are going to promote a productive economic recovery but maintaining all the protocols for the protection of health and life.
So, according to President Duque, it appears that Colombia is going to start to lift the quarantine somewhat in cities and towns and departments (states) without a coronavirus presence. And starting on May 18, Colombia started to lift the quarantine in nearly 200 COVID-19 free municipalities, so they can start to return to normal.
What about the highest-risk city of Bogotá? We believe the quarantine in Bogotá will be extended. What about the other cities in Colombia that have fewer coronavirus cases? We suspect that Colombia may assess each city and may implement different levels of quarantine based on the risk.
What have other countries done? Below we look at what South Korea and China have done, which are two countries in Asia that have seen coronavirus case counts plummet and have returned to some normality.
South Korea – Winning the Coronavirus Battle Without Shutting Down Cities
The coronavirus outbreak in South Korea once looked very grim, with new cases rapidly increasing daily and a huge cluster of infections, making it the worst-hit country in Asia outside of China.
As seen in the above graphic, coronavirus cases suddenly exploded in South Korea in February. The case count multiplied 180-fold in only two weeks, with daily cases hitting 813 on February 29.
But the disturbing trend quickly reversed. Starting on March 6, South Korea began reporting declining numbers of new cases, with daily increases recently dropping on some days to the dozens. As of March 31, South Korea had 9,786 cases.
South Korea’s coronavirus cases have been concentrated in the city of Daegu with nearly 70 percent of cases in the county. And the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu was responsible for the largest cluster of cases in South Korea, with a total of 5,080 cases as of March 25 or over half the cases in South Korea.
To stop the viral spread, governments around the world are turning to draconian measures, from locking down cities and countries to closing borders.
But South Korea demonstrates there is another way to bring coronavirus under control. Businesses across South Korea have largely continued to operate. And not a single city in South Korea has been locked down. In addition, with new cases in South Korea declining, life in South Korea has begun to return to normal.
South Korea tested for coronavirus at the fastest pace in the world, enabling early detection, effective isolation and timely treatment to reduce deaths so was able to begin to return to normal.
South Korea reportedly has the ability to test 12,000 people a day on average, with peak capacity of as many as 20,000 a day. By March 20, the country had tested more than 300,000 of its population of 51 million people, which is more than one of every 200.
Massive testing helped South Korea control the outbreak and reduce fatalities. But South Korea also adopted rigorous quarantine measures for those infected to prevent the spread of the virus. These measures came from painful lessons learned in Daegu, which has nearly 70 percent of all coronavirus cases in the country.
South Korea experienced overwhelmed hospitals in Daegu, resulting in numerous fatalities due to delayed treatment. Meanwhile, many patients with mild symptoms were told to quarantine at home, causing clusters of infections among family members.
On March 1, Daegu had 2,569 confirmed coronavirus cases. But only 898 of them were hospitalized and the rest were isolated at home. The same day in March, South Korea issued new guidance for coronavirus, including setting up dedicated facilities to receive patients at different stages of the disease to reduce the burden on hospitals and avoid isolating cases at home.
In addition, South Korea implemented legislation that would allow health officials to aggressively trace the footsteps of people who test positive including using security camera footage, credit-card records, GPS data from cellphones and car navigation system. So, South Korea has aggressive contact tracing to enable finding people who were infected.
Furthermore, South Korea is widely using face masks throughout the country. In late February, South Korea starting allocating 2.4 million face masks to pharmacies, each day. And South Korean health officials urge all citizens to wear face masks.
The bottom line is that mass testing and strict quarantine of infected cases measures and wide use of face masks allowed South Korea to slow the outbreak without shutting down cities and banning travel and return to normal or a more normal life.
Return to Normal Faster – What Can Colombia Learn from South Korea
South Korea has a population of 51 million that is similar sized to Colombia with a population of about 49 million. So, the two countries are similar sized but are taking completely different approaches to coronavirus.
South Korea provides a good example of how to control coronavirus without the mass quarantines and shutting the country down like has been done in Colombia.
South Korea demonstrates that massive testing can help control the outbreak and reduce fatalities. Colombia currently has capacity to only conduct about 1,200 coronavirus tests per day, which is much less than in South Korea with the ability to test 12,000 people a day on average. Also, South Korea is widely using face masks throughout the country.
In addition, South Korea is isolating infected cases in special facilities and not isolating those infected at home. Colombia is currently isolating about 90 percent of cases at home. So, Colombia may experience clusters of infections in homes.
On April 2, 2020, President Iván Duque of Colombia announced that he had an emotional call with Moon Jae-in, President of Korea, on Wednesday night. President Duque said:
And I asked him for the support for Colombia and he told me that they are going to support the country with thousands of tests, so that we can advance in the quick and effective tests in our country.
Also, South Korea will advise Colombia on testing, rapid tests and scientific analysis. So, Colombia will benefit from the experience of South Korea in containing the expansion of coronavirus.
China – Massive Quarantines Used to Flatten the Curve
China has taken a completely different approach to coronavirus than South Korea with massive quarantines in regions affected by the virus.
More than 82,000 people in China have been infected by the virus that first appeared in the city of Wuhan, killing more than 3,000 in China. But the daily number of new infections in China has dropped dramatically in recent weeks.
On January 23, 2020, China took the unprecedented step to lock down Wuhan and surrounding regions, effectively restricting the movements of 60 million people in Hubei province as coronavirus infections were increasing dramatically day-to-day.
Those infected with coronavirus were forcibly isolated in temporary hospitals and quarantine shelters. This isolation even separated parents from young children who displayed symptoms of COVID-19, no matter how seemingly mild. And in Wuhan, local authorities even went door-to-door for health checks.
In addition, the caretakers in Wuhan’s large apartment buildings that are ubiquitous in the city were forced to act as ad hoc security guards. The caretakers had to take on new responsibilities including deciding who could come in, monitoring the temperatures of residents and inspecting delivered medicine and food.
During the strict quarantine in Wuhan, people couldn’t go outside under any circumstance. You could not go out even if you had a pet. In Wuhan, tens of millions of people were isolated at home for a little over two months but quarantine rules are now being lifted in Wuhan an things starting to return to normal. The number of active coronavirus cases in China have dropped dramatically, as seen in the following graphic, resulting in much of China returning to normal.
Regulations have varied by province in China based on risk. The entire country was not under quarantine like in Wuhan. But tough measures are still in place for workers even in cities that were spared the worst of the virus. These measures include strict workplace rules, travel restrictions, rigorous testing and comprehensive tracking via smartphone.
Similar to South Korea, faces masks are ubiquitous in China and used by almost everyone.
In addition, in China to enter an office building, mall, supermarket or other large building, residents must show a color QR code on their smart phone showing they are compliant with enforced self-quarantine for those moving between cities. For example, a traveler from Shanghai to Beijing within the past 14 days will have red code and will be denied access. And cell phones in Chine are linked to national ID cards.
There are signs of things are starting to return to normal in China. Data released recently by the internet company Baidu showed that based on movements of users it estimated than 90 percent of restaurants and 85 percent of malls in Beijing have reopened. So, some things in China are beginning to return to normal.
In addition, large industrial companies are touting progress in reopening and starting to return to normal. Foxconn, the manufacturing powerhouse that makes Apple’s iPhones, reported recently that it had resumed operations enough to meet seasonal demand and plants were operating at 50 percent of capacity.
But Foxconn has implemented measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The company uses frequent temperature testing and has given more than 50,000 coronavirus tests to workers.
As of April 1, China recorded fewer than half – about 82,000 cases – compared to the number of U.S. coronavirus cases.
However, China appears to be preparing for a potential second-wave of infections. Over the last few days, China has had to again close some public spaces and businesses, such as movie theaters, amid a spike in clusters of cases, mostly imported.
Worried that international travelers could trigger a second wave of coronavirus infections, China announced last week on March 26 that it was suspending entry of foreigners to the country and was halting almost all international passenger flights as well.
This announcement last week came after data indicated that China had almost completely halted domestic transmission of the virus but was struggling to handle a growing number of imported cases – people who were infected overseas.
Return to Normal Faster – What Can Colombia Learn from China
China provides an example of a country that used quarantines to effectively control coronavirus. However, most notably, the quarantines in China were NOT nationwide and were based on risk.
Colombia is using a nationwide quarantine as a blunt instrument even in cities where the risk of coronavirus appears to low with no coronavirus cases. So, Colombia should consider basing quarantines and mitigation measures based on the coronavirus risk of cities.
Also, China appears to be bracing for a new wave of coronavirus infections caused by international travel. This is a warning to Colombia to be careful that re-opening international flights to Colombia too early could spark an increase in cases.
China is using smart phones to manage 14-day self-quarantines for travelers between cities. This could be used in Colombia as well but an issue is that only about 75 percent of Colombians have a smart phone.
Medellin Guru’s Coronavirus Series
Medellin Guru has a series of articles about the coronavirus pandemic and the impacts in Colombia: Also, these articles are being kept up-to-date, as this is a fast-moving topic:
- Colombia Started to Lift the Quarantine – What Does this Mean?
- Coronavirus: When Will the Quarantine Be Lifted in Colombia?
- Colombia Starts to Lift the Quarantine in COVID-19 Free Areas
- Colombia Quarantine: Nationwide Quarantine Extended to May 31
- Coronavirus in Colombia: Myth vs Reality – Current Status
- Coronavirus Hospitalization in Colombia: Myth vs Realty
- Are Medellín and Antioquia Winning the Coronavirus Battle?
- 8 Cities with a Major Increase in Coronavirus Cases in Colombia
- Colombia Coronavirus Death Rate: What are the Chances of Dying?
- Coronavirus: When Will Things Return to Normal in Colombia?
- COVID-19 Testing in Colombia: Realty About Coronavirus Testing
- Life as an Expat: During Medellín’s Coronavirus Quarantine
- Colombian Visa Process Changes: Due to Quarantine and Coronavirus
- Medellín Coronavirus Closures – What is Closed in Medellín?
- Pico y Cedula: A Restriction for Grocery Shopping in the Aburrá Valley During the Quarantine
- Medellín Quarantine Starts on March 20 for Four Days
The Bottom Line: Coronavirus – When Will Things Return to Normal in Colombia?
Colombia is now entering the “mitigation” phase of its coronavirus measures. During this phase, Colombia plans to “expand measures to flatten the epidemiological curve, save lives and prevent the health system from collapsing.”
Colombia also plans to speed up COVID-19 testing system in the country, with increased capacity. We believe this is a very good approach, as this helped South Korea with early detection, effective isolation and timely treatment to reduce deaths and has contributed to a dramatic drop in new cases. Also, keep in mind that South Korea was able to dramatically decrease its number of new coronavirus cases without the use of quarantines.
In addition, we believe it would be relatively low cost for Colombia to provide face masks for the poor that may not have access to face masks except for homemade ones. It is notable that it appears that countries in Asia that have been most effective in combating coronavirus tend to have ubiquitous use of face masks.
It is difficult to answer the question “When will things return to normal in Colombia?”, as it is challenging to predict when will things return to normal with things moving so fast in Colombia.
However we will see in the next few weeks what Colombia decides. We expect that decisions will be made based on if the coronavirus daily case counts increase or decrease, as a result of the quarantine.
For a light at the end of the tunnel, we recommend readers look at the experience particularly of South Korea. South Korea has been able to dramatically decrease the number of new coronavirus cases without the use of quarantines and has been able to return to normal mostly.
Also, keep in mind it took about two months of quarantine in hard-hit Wuhan in China. We think that Colombia’s quarantines likely will be shorter, as Colombia hasn’t experienced the tremendous increase of cases in Wuhan. Also, Colombia acted faster in response to coronavirus than China.
As of May 24, which is over 60 days into the national quarantine in Colombia, 23 percent of Colombians live in over 780 cities or towns without a single case of coronavirus. Also, 24 percent of the cities and towns in Colombia that had at least one coronavirus case haven’t experienced a new case in over two weeks.
Does a national quarantine still make sense for all of Colombia?
So, we hope a continued nationwide quarantine in Colombia does not continue. This doesn’t make sense for the entire country, as over 870 cities, towns and pueblos in Colombia appear to be low risk with so far no cases during the quarantine or none in the past two weeks. So, why can’t they return to normal?
But we expect quarantines to remain in some cities in Colombia, particularly Bogotá, which has by far the highest number of cases in Colombia and the case count in Bogotá has been increasing at an alarming rate so is less likely to return to normal.
Readers, when do you think or hope things will return to normal in Colombia?
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Editors note: updated on April 19, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on April 20, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on April 21, 2020 to add information that the Colombia nationwide quarantine has been extended to May 11 and added President Duque’s statement about municipalities without a coronavirus case and updated with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on April 22, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: update on April 23, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts and added a table of cities and towns in Colombia with coronavirus cases that haven’t reported a new case in over two weeks.
Editors note: updated on April 24, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on April 26, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for April 25.
Editors note: updated on April 27, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on April 28, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on April 29, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on April 30, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on May 1, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on May 2, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on May 3, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on May 4, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on May 5, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts and added information that the Colombia national quarantine is extended to May 25.
Editors note: updated on May 6, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on May 7, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on May 8, 2020 with current coronavirus case counts.
Editors note: updated on May 10, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 9.
Editors note: updated on May 11, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 11.
Editors note: updated on May 12, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 12.
Editors note: updated on May 14, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 13.
Editors note: updated on May 15, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 14.
Editors note: updated on May 16, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 15.
Editors note: updated on May 17, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 16.
Editors note: updated on May 18, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 17.
Editors note: updated on May 19, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 18 and added information that the quarantine in Colombia has been extended to May 31.
Editors note: updated on May 20, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 19.
Editors note: updated on May 21, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 20.
Editors note: updated on May 22, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 21.
Editors note: updated on May 23, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 22.
Editors note: updated on May 24, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 23.
Editors note: updated on May 25, 2020 with coronavirus case counts for May 24.