Wednesday, October 28, 2020

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Medellin-based electric power giant EPM revealed July 8 that it has now spent 95% of its COP$1.2 trillion (US$330 million) budget for social and environmental projects in 13 municipalities around its 2.4-gigawatt “Hidroituango” hydroelectric project in Antioquia.

The massive spending is benefitting both people and the environment in-and-around the towns of Briceño, Ituango, San Andrés de Cuerquia, Toledo, Valdivia, Yarumal, Buriticá, Liborina, Olaya, Peque, Sabanalarga and Santa Fe de Antioquia, according to the company.

Among the latest beneficiaries are several more families getting brand-new apartments in the municipality of Ituango, where EPM also built an adjacent sports hall for recreation.

“In the seven years of execution of the social investment plan, numerous actions have been carried out to contribute to the improvement of [highway and bridge] connectivity, infrastructure in education and housing, health conditions and food security of the communities,” according to the company.

“To facilitate the connectivity of the region’s inhabitants, the Hidroituango project has contributed to the recovery of 1,218 kilometers of secondary and tertiary roads [as well as] bridleways [for horse- and foot-traffic],” according to EPM.

As for nutritional food security, EPM identified 3,785 families for “training, technical assistance, tools, supplies, and fertilizers to create and maintain their own crops. In total 3,065 hectares were intervened in 378 outlying neighborhoods to make these productive projects a reality,” according to the company.

“In addition, 2,300 families benefited from the ‘Maná Project’ via the creation of vegetable gardens and the establishment of productive ventures,” according to EPM.

In housing, EPM has delivered to date new residential units for 52 families and "contributed to improving the conditions of 659 other homes," according to the company.

As for education, EPM “contributed to the improvement of 71 educational establishments, which consisted of adapting classrooms, libraries, dining rooms, recreational spaces, among others, and built seven new training centers,” according to the company.

As for health, EPM “invested resources in facilitating access to formal health care networks, with improvements and equipment provided to a health center, provision of two ambulances and health care services for 12,463 people. The ‘healthy schools’ program also was implemented in 10 educational institutions,” according to the company.

As for public utilities, 5,489 more families were connected to natural-gas service, while eight aqueduct and sewer master plans were developed.

As for reforestation, EPM is restoring 24,530 hectares of vegetation in the Cauca River canyon to compensate for inundated lands behind the dam.

“The actions carried out include planting 70 native species typical of the dry tropical, humid tropical and premontane forests,” according to the company.

“In the 12 years that the project has been under development, EPM has acquired 24,530 hectares, mainly in areas surrounding the reservoir and areas degraded by the gradual actions of different economic activities in the municipalities of Buriticá, Liborina, Sabanalarga, Peque, Ituango, Toledo and Briceño,” according to EPM.

The land acquisitions “offset the impacts caused during the construction of the dam reservoir, main works, access roads and future operation of the hydroelectric project,” according to the company.

The 20-year reforestation and conservation plan includes “4,137 hectares of tropical rain forest, 13,860 hectares of tropical dry forest and 6,532 hectares of damp, premontane forest,” according to EPM.

“Ecological restoration actions not only include the planting of native species, but also involve the analysis of coverage, connectivity, landscape, flora and fauna [in order to] set feasible restoration goals to achieve recovery of soils, water resources and biodiversity.

“In the project’s area of influence, studies and monitoring carried out by biologists, agronomists, zoologists and experts in other disciplines have so far registered nearly 16 species of amphibians, 36 reptile species, 300 bird species and about 36 mammal species,” the company added.


Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero announced July 2 that the city has just added 1,000 more epidemiological trackers to help the city stem the rise in Covid-19 cases.

Simultaneously, Medellin debuted an on-line database and mapping program (see: https://www.medellin.gov.co/irj/portal/medellin?NavigationTarget=navurl://48b007fc8d7912ef960824275ea1cb7a ) so that citizens can see exactly where Covid-19 cases are appearing daily, along with total numbers of active cases, recoveries, hospitalizations, intensive care unit (ICU) capacity and continuing progress in adding more hospitalization capacity.

“We are doubling the number of people in the ICU every twelve days,” Mayor Quintero warned. “The graph [showing the rise in cases] will continue to rise because we are seeing the strongest outbreaks and our responsibility is to make [control] decisions and do them on time,” he added.

Currently the city has 507 ICUs available -- and on July 2, the national government donated another 50 Covid-19 ventilators to the hospital network here. In addition, the Avenida 80 clinic -- dedicated specifically to future Covid-19 patient care -- is now ready to start operating “when required,” he said.

Mayor Quintero also announced that he expects Colombia’s medical-device regulatory agency Invima to endorse clinical tests of the relatively low-cost Covid-19 ventilators developed in the “InnspiraMED” initiative by the University of Antioquia, the School of Engineering of Antioquia (EIA University) and Sampedro Medical Industries.

On a related front, Medellin will crack-down on irresponsible drinking-and-socializing behaviors that usually peak during weekends and holidays, he said.

The crackdown – which will continue until the Covid-19 epidemic eventually declines – includes a ban weekend/holiday sales of liquor, as well as police break-ups of group parties that usually ignore social distancing and face-mask mandates.

These measures are “motivated by more than 1,800 interventions to parties that the police carried out during the last [Father’s-Day weekend] holiday by order of the municipal administration, and taking into account that currently Medellín has 1,276 active [Covid-19] cases, with 890 recoveries, 102 hospitalized patients and 15 fatalities,” according to the Mayor’s Office.

Meanwhile, ICU occupancy at city hospitals has reached 19.7% precisely because of rising Covid-19 cases – about half of which includes patients from other departments outside Antioquia.

“Medellín has become a world example thanks to the use of cutting-edge [Covid-19 tracking and control] technology, the discipline of citizens and ability to anticipate the decisions of other authorities,” according to the Mayor’s Office.

“So far, we have gained time and made progress in economic recovery, while increasing hospital capacity, enabling the 'Avenida 80' clinic, continuing the development of [locally made, relatively low-cost] ventilators, and equipping the city with more tests.”

Nevertheless, “we cannot claim victory,” Mayor Quintero added. “We took the virus very seriously at first when others believed it was a simple flu, and now that a more difficult stage is coming, we will not let our guard down,” he said.

Unless citizens and businesses strictly follow biosafety protocols, then “this could lead to crises like those of other cities in the country. It cannot be overlooked that Colombia has already exceeded 100,000 cases of coronavirus,” Quintero said.

“Thanks to the follow-up that we do for each of the cases, we have detected that most of the people who are in an ICU today did not take care of themselves, did not recognize the symptoms, never called the ‘123’ [emergency hot-line] and allowed the disease to worsen,” he added.

From now on, all citizens should contact the “123” hotline even if they have only mild symptoms, or if they have contacted their “EPS” health-care/insurance network to report any symptoms, Quintero added.


Antioquia Acting Governor Luis Fernando Suárez announced June 30 that another 130 intensive care unit (ICU) beds will debut in Antioquia by July 11 to handle a potential future surge of critical Covid-19 victims.

The latest expansion is part of a plan to have at least 909 ICU beds available over the coming weeks, with a peak demand seen possibly emerging at end-July or early-August, he said.

While Medellin specifically and Antioquia generally currently have spare ICU capacity for critical Covid-19 cases, “we must say that the days to come are very difficult because the pandemic is in full swing and every day we have a greater number of infected people, and every day human lives are lost,” Suárez warned.

Today, about half of the Covid-19 patients in Medellin ICU’s aren’t from Antioquia, but rather from neighboring Choco department, Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero noted. Likewise, available ICU’s throughout Antioquia “are for Colombians” and not just for local people, Suárez added.

While 42% of ICU beds are now occupied in Antioquia, “with the opening of these new ICUs that percentage will drop,” Suárez explained.

“Our initial inventory of ICU beds was 480, of which 240 were left exclusively for Covid patients, and this morning [June 30], 64 of them were in use,” he added.

While Antioquia has suffered 25 fatalities from Covid-19 so far this year, “the numbers will continue to increase,” Suárez warned. As a result, aside from boosting ICU capacity, “everyone should take the best decision to protect oneself adequately, by washing hands, wearing face masks, and maintaining social distance,” he said.

Meanwhile, as of June 30, Colombia’s Health Ministry had recorded a nationwide cumulative total of 97,946 cases of Covid-19 since tracking started five months ago.

Bogota continues to have the most cases at 30,017, followed by Atlantico (23,360); Cali/Valle del Cauca (9,974 ); Bolivar (9,116); Antioquia (4,442); Nariño (3,443); Cundinamarca (2,709); Amazonas (2,299); Choco (1,544); Sucre (1,255); and Meta (1,250), according to the Health Ministry.

While Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez has continued to criticize Colombia President Ivan Duque for allegedly insufficient deliveries of more ventilators for future Covid-19 critical cases, ironically it's Mayor Lopez that has been the slowest among all big-city Colombian mayors to seek out and buy ventilators on their own account -- beyond what the national government is already providing.

For example: Colombia Health Minister Fernando Ruiz pointed out in a nationally televised broadcast on June 29 that Cali/Valle del Cauca mayors and health officials have recently purchased 300 ventilators in addition to the ventilators provided by the federal government. Cundinamarca mayors likewise bought another 152 ventilators, while Medellin and Antioquia bought 130 and Córdoba 107. Yet over the same time, Bogotá bought only 73 ventilators on its own account.

What’s more -- contradicting the constant complaints from Bogota Mayor Lopez -- the Colombian government on June 30 just delivered another 305 ventilators to Bogota -- a month ahead of schedule. So, as a result, Bogota now has 430 of the 722 ventilators that the national government has committed to giving to Bogotá between now and August, Health Minister Ruiz pointed out. What's more, Bogota is getting far more ventilators from the federal government than any other city in Colombia.

In addition, if Bogota suffers an exceptionally big surge in critical Covid-19 cases in the coming weeks, then the Health Ministry will accelerate delivery of even more ventilators to Bogota, Ministry Ruiz added.

Thanks to this new surge of ventilator deliveries -- and promises of more to come -- Mayor Lopez announced July 1 that she has decided to withdraw her previous demand that President Duque should authorize Bogota to reimpose in July the extreme quarantine measures earlier imposed nationwide in March and April.


Medellin-based multinational utilities giant EPM revealed in a June 29 filing with Colombia’s Superfinanciera oversight agency that it has pledged to give 55% of all its profits in 2020 through 2023 to the city of Medellin – its sole shareholder.

According to the filing, 25% of profits will go directly to the city while another 30% of “ordinary surpluses” also will go to Medellin, hence a total of 55% of profits.

The pledge is contained in “Municipal Agreement No. 02 of 2020 - Development Plan of Medellin, Medellin Futuro,” according to EPM.

“This 55% percentage has been stable since 2012 in the EPM surplus distribution structure to the municipality of Medellín,” the company added.


Medellin and certain other parts of Colombia are now recognized nationally and internationally for outstanding efforts to minimize Covid-19 outbreaks while carefully reopening commercial and industrial sectors -- saving millions of jobs and avoiding economic disaster.

However, a relatively few irresponsible people are threatening to wreck the great sacrifices and personal discipline performed by the vast majority, as Colombia Health Minister Fernando Ruiz announced June 24 in a nationally televised address accompanied by Colombia President Ivan Duque.

Minister Ruiz and President Duque cited irresponsible social behavior in certain areas of some cities during the recent tax-free sales day (June 19) as well as the just-ended Father’s-Day three-day weekend, where police broke-up more than 3,000 illegal crowds and reckless parties -- 200 of which were in mainly low-income neighborhoods in Medellin.

“This leads us to the conclusion that we really have to put a brake on these cases and that we must work harder on self-care,” Ruiz said.

In the past two months, cases of irresponsible behavior including mass gatherings, drinking-and-dancing parties, lack of social distancing and failure to use face masks caused serious outbreaks of Covid-19 and scores of deaths, especially in the Caribbean coastal cities of Cartagena and Barranquilla, Ruiz noted.

But follow-up crackdowns by the Health Ministry in coordination with local mayors and police have since helped to quell these outbreaks and dampen the rise of fatalities in certain cities, he noted.

“Through targeted actions, intervention in [Covid-outbreak] neighborhoods, agreements between the EPS [health-care networks] to carry out massive testing, isolation and increasing our attention span has generated [better] results,” according to the Ministry.

“We do not claim victory, but [outbreak] cases have been reduced significantly,” according to Ruiz. “Already in Cartagena [Atlantico department] and Leticia [Amazonas department] we have seen 33% of those infected already recovered.”

Barranquilla likewise “has to do the same: [epidemiological] fences in neighborhoods and actions that invite social discipline,” he added.

As for the massive increase in shopping during the special June 19 tax-free shopping day in Colombia, most commercial establishments and most shoppers complied with Covid-19 biosafety protocols, he noted.

However, certain shopping areas in some cities – especially those offering huge discounts on home appliances, computers, televisions and cell-phones – saw overflow crowds, which sometimes defeated social-distancing, he said.

So, for the next two tax-free shopping days scheduled in July, “electronic [internet] purchasing and other mechanisms will have to be increased to be able to contain” overcrowding, he warned.

“It is very difficult to keep the population in isolation on a mandatory basis, so we have to generate more capacity for self-care -- and that only develops by opening the economy gradually and that the population demonstrate their capacity [for biosafety compliance] and learning, “ Ruiz concluded.

Medellin Mayor’s Office Praises General Compliance

Meanwhile, according to the Medellin Mayor’s Office, “almost all of the commercial establishments reported a positive [tax-free-sales] day thanks to compliance with all biosafety regulations.

“Despite this, a chain store located in the city center had to be closed preventively due to non-compliance with its protocols. The municipal administration accomplained health authorities to control this situation and protect the integrity of citizens.”

Medellin Secretary of Economic Development Alejandro Arias García added that “merchants tell us that they have increased their sales five times compared to what they had been reporting in recent weeks. This is very positive because it reaffirms that citizens believed in this event, are privileging online shopping and, in most cases, having exemplary behavior at points of sale.”

According to commercial trade association Fenalco Antioquia and Colombia’s Ministry of Commerce, local retailers saw a 30% increase in sales even compared to a typical day before the Covid-19 pandemic started four months ago.

Meanwhile, since Covid-19 tracking started four months ago, Colombia’s Health Ministry has now recorded a cumulative total of 77,113 cases nationally, with 2,491 deaths and 31,671 recoveries (as of June 24).

Bogota is worst at 23,367 cases, followed by Atlantico (17,972); Cali/Valle del Cauca (8,342); Bolivar (7,473); Antioquia (3,239); Nariño (2,814); Amazonas (2,220); Cundinamarca (2,182); Magdalena (1,390); Meta (1,159); and Choco (1,148).

Of the Antioquia cases, Medellín to date accounts for about one-third of the departmental total: 1,321 cases, of which 665 are still active, 649 recovered and seven deaths.

Antioquia Government Urges Self-Quarantines

Meanwhile, the departmental government of Antioquia announced June 24 that any shoppers who ignored social distancing at certain locations during the tax-free shopping day (June 19) now ought to remain at home for the next 14 days.

“The incubation time for the virus that produces Covid-19 can be from two to 14 days,” the Antioquia departmental bulletin noted.

“This is the time between the day of infection and the day of symptom onset. People can transmit the virus starting two days before presenting symptoms. Therefore, if you were infected on Friday, June 19, it is possible that you will start transmitting the infection to others from today and in the following days, even if you do not have symptoms yet.

“Based on these scientific data, we want to invite all people who attended shopping last Friday (June 19) and who were anywhere when infection-prevention measures were neglected to follow the following recommendations:

“1. Stay home in the next 14 days. Avoid going to appointments or to the market. If you have scheduled surgeries, then postpone them. Use electronic means to do meetings and errands.

“2. Wear a surgical mask and do not remove it while you are away from home, and even more so if you have people within two meters.

“3. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or glycerinated alcohol.

“4. Immediately notify your Covid-19 hotline if you develop a fever, cough, shortness of breath, general muscle pain, headache, sore or sore throat, loss of smell or taste.

“5. If you live with people over the age of 70 or who suffer from hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, chronic lung disease, cancer or immunosuppression, avoid approaching them within two meters in the following 14 days. If these people are scheduled for surgery, then they are also recommended to postpone their surgeries.”


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About Medellin Herald

Medellin Herald is a locally produced, English-language news and advisory service uniquely focused upon a more-mature audience of visitors, investors, conference and trade-show attendees, property buyers, expats, retirees, volunteers and nature lovers.

U.S. native Roberto Peckham, who founded Medellin Herald in 2015, has been residing in metro Medellin since 2005 and has traveled regularly and extensively throughout Colombia since 1981.

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