July 16, 2020 / 10:11 PM / 21 days ago

With hospitals 'close to collapse,' Bogota doctors call for city-wide quarantine

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Doctors in Bogota are calling for a return to a strict city-wide quarantine to slow coronavirus infections in Colombia’s capital, warning that medical services are close to collapsing, a leading medic said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Members of the medical team prepare the items to practice tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in one of the neighbourhoods where the mayor's office decreed strict quarantine, amidst an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Bogota, Colombia July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

The Andean country has reported over 165,000 cases of the coronavirus and around 6,000 deaths. Bogota accounts for more than a third of the country’s total cases and over 20% of its deaths.

“We’re in a critical situation,” the president of the Bogota College of Medicine, Herman Bayona, told Reuters. “We are close to collapse.”

Colombian President Ivan Duque declared an ongoing quarantine to slow the spread of the coronavirus in late March.

The quarantine is due to be lifted on Aug. 1, with certain sectors of the economy and parts of the country already starting to reopen.

This week the capital began strict, rolling two-week quarantines by neighbourhood, something Bayona said was ineffective.

“We don’t think zonal quarantines have the power to slow the speed of infections,” he said.

Bayona said a number of medical associations had met with political leaders in Bogota to argue for a return to a strict city-wide quarantine.

Bogota’s intensive care units (ICUs) were at just under 90% capacity as of Wednesday evening, according to local government figures. Mayor Claudia Lopez visited a public hospital on Thursday and said between 20 and 30 new ventilators will come online daily to increase ICU capacity.

“Bogota’s hospitals haven’t collapsed,” Lopez said. “The hospital system and ICUs are serving everyone who needs attention.”

Though some ICUs are at full capacity, patients can be moved to hospitals with space, she said.

But ICUs are not the only measure of a stretched health system. COVID-19 wards in the city are full, Bayona said, while emergency services are operating above capacity.

Lopez is set to hold a meeting early next week with the health ministry to determine whether all of Bogota will be placed under a strict quarantine.

If hospitals reach full capacity as the peak of the pandemic hits, it will spell disaster, Bayona said.

“The possibility of a great number of deaths in our city is a latent risk,” he said.

Reporting by Andres Rojas and Herbert Villarraga; additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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