According to the Colombian president: “The case of Venezuela, the information is nil, so everything that happens there is practically a problem because there are no good hospital capacities.”
Venezuela is a time bomb for public health, Colombian President Iván Duque told Reuters on Friday, highlighting the neighboring country as an additional risk in his government’s attempts to contain the coronavirus pandemic despite more than three months of isolation and financial efforts.
The Duque government does not recognize Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as the legitimate leader of his country and regularly accuses the socialist president of harboring criminal gangs and leftist rebels.
Colombia, which has almost 80,600 confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than 2,600 deaths, has become in recent years the main destination for thousands of Venezuelans fleeing the social and economic crisis in their country.
The 2,219-kilometer border between the two countries, which almost always remains closed, is notoriously porous with hundreds of illegal crossings.
Venezuela has only reported 4,600 coronavirus cases and 39 deaths.
“The case of Venezuela, the information is nil, so everything that happens there is practically a problem because there are no good hospital capacities, there are no good epidemiological capacities, long ago there were no serious immunization programs,” said Duque in a interview with Reuters at the presidential palace.
“So of course I believe that Venezuela is from a public health point of view a time bomb,” he said.
Maduro maintains that his country has handled the outbreak better than other Latin American nations, and said that most cases can be traced to migrants returning from Colombia and Brazil.
But doctors reported that there are not enough beds or hospital supplies, limited use of face masks in public spaces, and the use of low-budget hotels to quarantine patients with covid-19.
And on the Brazilian side
Colombia also shares an Amazon border with Brazil, which has recorded more than 1.2 million cases and almost 55,000 deaths, even when President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the severity of the pandemic.
Last month, Colombia increased militarization on its border with Brazil to prevent transit through informal crossings and the possible spread of covid-19, after the sparsely populated department of Amazonas recorded an increase in cases.
Despite the high number of cases in Brazil, Duque stressed that that country “has a much more reliable, more credible institutionality” and the governors work in coordination with national authorities, testing to detect the virus and taking measures to contain it.
Duque assured that the preventive isolation measures that began in March have allowed Colombia to keep the curve under control with lower death and contagion rates for every million inhabitants compared to the United States, Europe and other Latin American countries.
The president said that the new cases are concentrated in a small number of municipalities and deaths in those over 60 years of age.
Duque revealed that at the beginning of the pandemic the country had 5,400 intensive care units and that it has managed to increase the number of ventilators to soon reach 10,000 and thus strengthen hospital capacity.
“Colombia behaves much better than the region, much better than developed countries and also with one element, and that is that it is strengthening its capacity of intensive care units,” he explained.
Between spending on social programs and medical care, government credit guarantees and the Central Bank’s liquidity efforts, the country is spending the equivalent of 11.3% of Gross Domestic Product to address the pandemic, the president said.
Duque assured that the Colombian economy, heavily hit by the pandemic, is operating around 90%, and assured that the best measure to contain the coronavirus is good citizen behavior because “a country cannot be locked up indefinitely” while insisting that “we are going to have to live with this pandemic for at least a year.”