Sunday, September 27, 2020

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Colombia’s Health Ministry announced March 30 that it’s accelerating national payments totaling COP$2.1 trillion (US$517 million) to hospitals and clinics this year in order to respond to an expected surge of Coronavirus patients.

The accelerated payments total a little less than half of the COP$4.5 trillion (US$1.1 billion) in subsidies budgeted for the entire year of 2020, according to the Ministry.

Meanwhile, as of March 30, the Health Ministry had reported 798 Coronavirus cases nationally, led by Bogota (350) and Cali/Valle del Cauca (104). Antioquia ranks third with 96 cases, of which 60 are reported within the city of Medellin.

Among the Antioquia cases, most involve people that had traveled to Spain, the USA, Jamaica, Turkey, Brazil, Italy, Panama, the UK, Ecuador and Germany, according to the Antioquia Departmental government. The remaining cases involved people who were cross-infected by foreign travelers.

So far, 12 people have died nationally from Coronavirus complications – none in Antioquia -- while 15 patients have fully recovered, according to the Ministry. The vast majority of victims are recuperating at homes rather than in hospitals.

“In order to guarantee financial liquidity in the nation’s hospitals and clinics in the face of the Coronavirus health emergency, the national government made the decision to anticipate the transfer of COP$2.1 trillion (US$517 million) corresponding to budgeted resources for the sector for the entire year, which will be disbursed to the institutions that provide health services [that is, Institutos Prestadores de Servicios de Salud, ‘IPS’] during the month of April and the beginning of May,” according to the Ministry.

Colombia’s Administrator of Resources of the General Social Security System in Health (ADRES) has already ordered advance payment of COP$782 billion (US$192 million) to health provider and insurance networks to help pay for certain other high-cost procedures and drugs that fall outside mandatory covered services in the “EPS” (empresas promotores de salud) insurance network schemes, the Ministry added.

Now, an additional COP$540 billion (US$133 million) will be released to health networks between April and May for mandatory covered services (including Coronavirus cases).

Yet another COP$700 billion (US$172 million) will be paid in May “so that hospitals, clinics and other medical centers can access the hospital portfolio purchase mechanism” in anticipation of future ADRES payments, according to the Ministry.


Colombia President Ivan Duque on March 29 hailed the move by the Ministry of Finance to extend COP$70 trillion (US$17 billion) in favorable credits to banks and their commercial, industrial and consumer customers -- in order to enable broader debt refinancing, maintain employment and keep paying wages to workers during the Coronavirus crisis.

With this program and other new measures, “I have no doubt that Colombia will succeed” in meeting the longer-term economic challenges of the Coronavirus crisis and the current quarantine, Duque said.

Apart from quarantine-exempt grocery and pharmacy buying today, much of consumer spending -- the biggest driver of the Colombian economy -- has been crushed.

What’s more, some restrictions on movement and gatherings are likely to continue past the presumptive April 13 end of the current quarantine, according to President Duque.

With millions of people no longer reporting to work -- and certain industries such as shopping malls, restaurants, hotels, airlines, real estate, entertainment, schools, colleges, museums, gymnasiums and parks shut down – the Colombian economy isn’t generating enough cash velocity to cover many current debts under existing repayment terms.

If this situation continues for months, then (ultimately) banks, industries, retailers and consumers would face a devastating financial crisis. Unless people get back to work, return to spending, and currently shut-down commercial/industrial ventures get back to production, the future looks bleak, as noted in a penetrating new investigation by Colombia-based financial giant Corficolombiana (see: https://investigaciones.corficolombiana.com/documents/38211/0/200316%20-%20Informe%20especial%20coronavirus%20en%20Colombia-2.pdf/b1178cd1-f4f2-73fb-2838-cd54db7d43b4).

On the brighter side, the COP$70 trillion(US$17 billion) newly-extended credits via the “Fondo Nacional de Garantías” (FNG) include COP$20 trillion (US$4.9 billion) for micro-, small- and medium-size enterprises (MSMEs), which account for the vast majority of employment in Colombia. This new government credit line for MSMEs includes a 50% payback guarantee, cutting lender risk in half.

Because of the new credit lines made available to banks, Duque urged lenders to “speed up the credit lines and facilities that allow small entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurs to attend to the situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.”

“This is a moment where [creditors] have to contribute with solidarity, and I know that the Financial Superintendent [Colombia’s ‘Superfinanciera’ regulatory agency] has been having dialogues with many providers of banking services. The call is to effectively streamline their [processes] to deal with this storm,” Duque added.

Colombia faced a similar financial crisis in 1999/2000, Duque recalled.

“Twenty years ago, our country made a great effort to save the financial system at a time of crisis. Today, at this time, we need a financial system that is also contributing in solidarity to overcome these difficult moments,” Duque said.

Besides the new FNG credit fund, the Colombian government also is now waiving certain taxes and mandatory payments of certain less-critical worker subsidies to help many small and medium-sized companies, he said.

In addition, Colombia’s Bancóldex agency just boosted its credit facilities to COPR$650 billion (US$160 million) for affected export sectors as well as second-tier backstop funding for lenders, he noted.

Meanwhile, in a separate but related March 27 announcement, the Finance Ministry confirmed that Colombia’s poorest people (“estratos uno y dos”) won’t have their utility connections cut during the crisis -- and the national government will help local utilities recover these losses.

“Here we give guarantees to all companies that provide public services so that they have the capacity to continue providing them and they will not be in difficulties,” Finance Ministry vice-minister Juan Alberto Londoño stated.

“This [assurance] is not only for utilities but also for the health sector,” Londoño added. “Companies in the health sector -- hospitals, laboratories that need credits to continue providing their services and that need aid -- will have guarantees from the state,” he said.

In addition, “universities and other sectors that we have been identifying -- and that we ask everyone to help us identify -- will be extended credit,” he added.

ANDI President Urges One-Year Debt Holiday

Meanwhile, in a March 29 opinion column published in Bogota daily newspaper El Tiempo, Bruce MacMaster, president of ANDI -- Colombia’s main industrial/commercial trade association -- stated that the Colombian government should start to consider even-more-radical credit measures.

“Three months ago, no one would have imagined that countries closed their borders, hotels and restaurants no longer are working, much less that 90% of the population would remain locked up in their homes, with society threatened by an illness that we are not capable of controlling, and with an economy totally at risk,” MacMaster wrote.

“If this situation continues, a good part of the economic achievements of the 20th and 21st centuries can be lost, unemployment levels will increase, the capacity of institutions to finance universal health and education could be compromised, and the business fabric that has played a major role in building development and generating massive employment could be seriously affected.”

Today’s private-sector solidarity measures and new government-aid initiatives are helping to alleviate the current crisis – including the new COP$70 trillion FNG credits, he noted.

But these alone wouldn't be enough to head-off a longer-term disaster if current the crisis continues, MacMaster warned.

Besides cash liquidity-crunches for consumers, “there is the liquidity of companies, which are the vehicles to generate employment and income for millions of families,” he said.

“A good part of the [industrial/commercial] financial commitment today has to do with debt service,” MacMaster explained.

As a result, the Colombia government “ought to think of doing a massive program -- hopefully automatic -- that would allow companies that require [financial relief] to postpone all debt service payments for a year.

“By allowing the [Superfinanciera financial regulator] to waive current repayment terms, the Bank of the Republic could [step in] to provide liquidity to the financial sector,” which in turn would pass-through this aid to the industrial/commercial sectors, he explained.

“For the financial sector, it is better to leave [debt] resources with good clients than to put them into receivership [bankruptcy]. This [one-year debt holiday] would free up resources necessary to meet the primary need – that is, people -- by supporting the viability of the productive sector, which will ultimately will have to pay back the credits,” MacMaster concluded.


Colombia’s National Institute of Health (“INS” in Spanish initials) announced March 29 that it's about to receive high-tech Coronavirus laboratory-analysis equipment donated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“The donated equipment, reagents and biosafety elements, which will arrive in the country in the coming days, will allow the National Institute of Health (INS) to continue applying the ‘RT-PCR’ technique, which manages to determine with 99% effectiveness who has acquired -- or not acquired -- the virus,” according to INS.

“In addition, this will improve the installed capacity of the INS to carry out new analyses of the disease in the national territory with the application of nearly 2,000 tests.

“Further, this will allow continuing the training process for scientists from higher education institutions, which have been preparing to implement the detection [analysis] techniques.”

An older diagnostic machine at INS suffered damage several days ago, but the Roche pharmaceutical company stepped-in to repair it on March 27, according to INS.

Meanwhile, as of March 28, Colombia had confirmed 608 cases of Coronavirus nationally, with Antioquia accounting for 67 cases. Six people have died nationally, but none so far in Antioquia.

EPM Donates Ventilators, ICU Capacity

On a related front, Medellin-based utilities giant EPM announced March 28 that it donated COP$3 billion (US$748,000 ) to boost Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity at University IPS Hospital (Leon XIII Clinic) in Medellin – specifically for coronavirus (COVID-19) victims.

“The monies will be used to buy 42 new beds to attend to potential patients in complex conditions, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). In addition, 37 ventilators will also be purchased, essential to treat patients when vital signs deteriorate and their lives are put at risk,” according to EPM.

Besides the ventilator purchases, the donation includes another 24 vital-signs monitors, three defibrillators, two 12-channel electrocardiographs and a central monitoring unit, according to EPM.

IPS Buys Another 1,510 Ventilators

Meanwhile, the Colombian Health Ministry announced that it just signed a contract for 1,510 ventilators for the expected surge of Coronavirus victims nationally. However, the Ministry added that this initial purchase likely won’t be sufficient, with at least 7,500 ventilators expected to be required nationally.

Medellin Refurbishes ‘Saludcoop’ Clinic

Meanwhile, on March 28, the Medellin Mayor’s Office announced that it’s refurbishing and reopening portions of the former “Saludcoop” clinic on Avenida 80, including installation of 156 ICUs “to serve all Covid-19 patients who require it.”  Employer-benefits organization Comfama, paint manufacturing giant Pintuco and IPS Universitaria Hospital all contributed to the refurbishment.

“To date there are already 67 [Covid-19] cases reported in Antioquia, and 43 of these people reside in Medellín,” according to the Mayor’s Office.

Five new cases in Medellin were reported last week -- all of which involved persons returning from foreign travel -- and three other persons here have had full recoveries so far, according to the Office.

“The population between 20 and 29 [years of age] continues to be the most affected, for which reason young people are called to comply with the obligatory social distancing,” according to the Mayor.

“Regarding the successful recovery of three people, Rita Almanza, an epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health, stated that these are cases that ‘at the beginning of the epidemic were diagnosed, and then after quarantine, they had a second negative test result.’”

Health Ministry Sends More Money to Antioquia

On another front, Colombia’s Health Ministry announced March 28 that it just sent COP$84 billion (US$21 million) to Antioquia to cover past-due debts at hospitals, clinics and government-subsidized “EPS” (empresas promotoras de salud) health-insurance networks.

“This sum will allow the department to settle the overdue debt for services and procedures not financed from the capitation payment unit (UPC) in the subsidized [EPS] regime and, according to the provisions of Resolution 916 of 2020, Antioquia will proceed to make the payment to the corresponding beneficiaries and creditors” including hospitals, clinics and suppliers, according to the Ministry.

The extra monies also would help hospitals and clinics deal with an expected surge of Coranvirus victims -- among which will be patients in the government-subsidized sector.


Colombia President Ivan Duque announced March 27 that the Coronavirus crisis and the resulting quarantine of most of the population is likely to cut Colombia’s gross domestic product (“PIB” in Spanish initials) this year.

While late-2019 and early-2020 forecasts had indicated that Colombia seemed on track for around 3.5% PIB growth this year, Duque stated that “we are going from, perhaps, in the first quarter of this year -- one of the best first quarters of the last 10 years -- to a tough second quarter, painful.”

In the face of the current economic downturn, both government and the private sector must “prepare to see how we are going to make an economic recovery that is sustainable and that also allows us to live with this virus while a vaccine appears,” he added.

Employers in both the private and public sectors are going to have to adopt “best practices in terms of control in labor scenarios,” he said.

“I believe that this is going to change many policies within companies where we are going to need [body] temperature mediators [to detect fevers]; where do we go, if someone has symptoms, to know how to say to that person: look, stay at home while you get better,” he said.

Meanwhile, the global oil-price crash triggered by falling global demand and a market-share war between Russia and Saudi Arabia will hurt Colombian government oil-revenues temporarily.

“It’s natural for the price to fall due to lower demand, but deliberately trying to generate an oversupply [from the market-share war] leads to negatively impacting the world economy [and] seems to me an act of extreme irresponsibility,” he said.

Fedesarrollo Cuts 2020 PIB Outlook

Meanwhile, Fedesarrollo -- Colombia’s leading economic think-tank – on March 27 cut its full-year 2020 PIB outlook for Colombia to 1.2%, down from its 3.5% 2020 growth forecast last December.

The “optimistic” scenario for Colombian PIB growth is 2.3% while the “pessimistic” scenario is a negative 0.4%, according to Fedesarrollo.

Colombian exports are likely to fall by 8.8% while imports would declined by an even steeper 15.8%, according to the forecast. Meanwhile, domestic consumer spending likely will dip by 2.2% and capital formation would fall by 11%, according to the latest forecast.

 

 


Medellin-based multinational utilities giant EPM revealed in a March 27 filing with Colombia’s Superfinanciera corporate oversight agency that its full-year 2019 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) rose 17% year-on-year, to COP$6 trillion (US$1.5 billion).

EBITDA margin hit 33% -- best in five years, according to EPM.

Out of its 2019 earnings, COP$1.5 trillion (US$376 million) this year will go directly to the city of Medellin -- EPM’s sole shareholder.

Gross revenues rose 12% year-on-year, to COP$$18.4 trillion (US$4.6 billion) -- 64% of which was generated in Colombia and the remaining 36% in its foreign markets.

Investments in public-service infrastructure during 2019 totaled COP$3.2 trillion (US$803 million), according to the company.

In total, EPM provided utility services to 10.4 million clients in six countries last year, the company added.

Over the last 12 years, EPM’s profit transfers to the city of Medellin total COP$10.9 trillion (US$2.7 billion), enabling investments in public education, welfare, infrastructure, housing, health, security and environmental protection, according to the company.

During 2019, EPM also spent COP$1.5 trillion (US$376 million ) on goods and services, generating more wealth and employment for Colombians, the company noted. What’s more, EPM spent another COP$261 billion (US$65 million) in payments to local communities and for environmental projects.

Capital spending on the US$5 billion, 2.4-gigawatt Hidroituango hydroelectric plant in Antioquia (now more than 75% complete) totaled COP$$1.1 trillion (US$276 million) last year.

Assets grew 5%, to COP$54.9 trillion (US$13.8 billion), while liabilities rose 1%, to COP$30.7 trillion (US$7.7 billion).

Debt to EBITDA ratio improved to 3.49 in 2019 versus 3.86 in 219, while total financial debt dipped to 40% in 2019 versus 41% in 2018 -- mainly due to the COP$525 billion (US$132 million) insurance payment received as partial compensation for damages suffered at the Hidroituango hydroelectric project, the company added.


The Mayor of Medellin and utilities giant EPM jointly announced March 25 the creation of “Fondo Abrazando con Amor” charity, whereby individuals and companies can donate funds to help Coronavirus victims within EPM’s area of operations.

Donations can be made to the fund’s Bancolombia “cuenta corriente,” account number 598-095455-40, according to EPM. The web page for "Fondo Abrazando con Amor" is available here: https://www.grupo-epm.com/site/fundacionepm/abrazando-con-amor.

“The EPM Foundation will be in charge of managing donations, benefitting groups of people or entities affected by the emergency as a result of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in the areas of influence of our business group,” according to EPM.

“People and institutions can make their donations or contributions through a QR code, transfer by PSE and other virtual channels authorized by the bank, in order to facilitate community support.

“The accumulated collection and execution of all donations and contributions received by the fund will be published on our website and on social networks of the EPM Foundation, as well as those of EPM and the Mayor's Office of Medellín,” the company added.

As of March 26, Colombia's Ministry of Health reported a nationwide total of 491 cases of Coronavirus, led by Bogota (187), Cali/Valle de Cauca (73) and Medellin (59).

So far, six Colombians have died from Coronavirus complications -- three in Bogota, one in Santa Marta, one in Cali and one in Cartagena, according to the Ministry. Another eight persons are reported to have recovered from the disease.


Medellin-born multinational bottled-beverages manufacturing giant Postobon announced March 25 that it’s investing COP$9 billion (US$2.2 million) in the “#InnspiraMED” joint project developing special respirators for Coronavirus victims.

A day later (March 26), Medellin-based international table-salt ("Refisal") manufacturer/marketer Brinsa announced that it's adding COP$1 billion (US$251,000) to the project, with the result that "#InnspiraMED" starts with a COP$10 billion (US$2.5 million) funding source to push-along the project.

Later, the "#InnspiraMED" project revelead that Medellin-based banking giant Bancolombia also chipped-in another COP$321 million (US$80,000).

The #InnspiraMED project includes several leading Antioquian companies and research partners in multiple fields.

“With interdisciplinary teams, three prototypes are being developed that can be produced with materials and supplies available or easily available,” according to Medellin-based tech incubator Ruta N.

“#InnspiraMED is an initiative in which more than 50 actors from the science, technology and innovation ecosystem participate today, articulating Ruta N and [Colombia’s national industrial-commercial trade association] ANDI,” according to the organization.

“This investment is guided by one criterion: saving lives,” added Miguel Fernando Escobar, president of Postobón.

Among the Medellin-metro-based entities involved in the “#InnspiraMED" initiative: University of Antioquia-GIBIC; EIA University; Ruta N; ANDI; government of Antioquia; Hospital San Vicente Fundación; TECHFIT Digital Surgery; Sampedro Medical Industries; C2R Engineering SAS; HyS Automation and Control; Invertronic; 10X Thinking; Sofasa Renault; Auteco; Haceb; Los Pinos Metal Industries; CES University; EMCO SA; Las Americas Clinic; Santafé Foundation; Medellin Molds; Reflect; Meridiano SAS; Brinsa; and Ion Heat.


Colombia President Ivan Duque announced March 25 that certain measures designed to contain the spread of Coronovirus will continue past the presumptive expiration of the national quarantine on April 13.

The announcement came on the heels of a March 25 bulletin from the Ministry of Health indicating that confirmed Coronavirus cases rose to 470 nationally, led by Bogota (170), Cali/Valle del Cauca (71) and Medellin/Antioquia (59). So far, eight persons have recovered from the disease.

According to the Ministry, four persons have died to date from complications related to Coronavirus, including a taxi driver in Cartagena who had mingled with infected Italian tourists; a 70-year-old woman in Cali exposed to the virus by a daughter who returned from a trip to Cuba; an 88-year-old man in Santa Marta who frequently interacted with tourists; and a 76-year-old man in Bogotá.

Meanwhile, between now and April 13, “we will evaluate the behavior of the pandemic curve and then make decisions on the measures and restrictions adopted,” President Duque said.

Government and private-sector management of the Coronavirus pandemic “does not end with quarantine,” he added.

“In that I want to be clear, so that we have managed expectations. It's not that on April 13 we will all be able to go outside, go to a concert, then go to a bar to celebrate. No. The controls will continue.

“On April 20, we will define whether children and young people can return to universities and schools, or whether they should remain in virtual [online] classes.”

As for social-distancing measures, Duque stated that “we will have to deepen them and strengthen hygiene measures.” Special isolation of people over 70 years of age, “which is the sector most vulnerable to attacks by this virus,” will continue until at least May 30.

Worker Protections

Meanwhile, on another front, President Duque stated that “the national government is not planning to support or promote mass layoffs, but rather protect the employment and well-being of workers.”

For the short term, “the government is working on a decree that would allow partial withdrawal of social-security savings, equivalent to a minimum wage, to help workers who face difficulties in specific cases,” he said.

However, some new, massive, long-term government unemployment insurance program – similar to systems in North America, Europe and Japan -- likely isn’t in the cards, he added.

“We know that we do not have the deep pockets that other economies have, but here we have all the will, all the creativity and all the patriotism so that, together, we will build a solution that allows us to go through this storm with the least possible social trauma,” he said.

“For example, for employees who will eventually be on [mandatory] vacation or even some who have had unpaid leave, what we expect today is to have a decree where a partial withdrawal of severance pay can be made, equivalent to the last salary, to be able to also overcome this difficulty,” he said.

New, US $1.47 Billion Emergency Fund Under ‘Decree 444’

On another front, Duque explained how a new, COP$6 trillion (US$1.47 billion) “Emergency Mitigation Fund” (FOME in Spanish initials)  via “Decree 444” will ensure continuing transfers from the national treasury to Colombia’s 32 departmental governments.

The FOME “does not authorize money for banks, but instead will meet the needs of 20 million Colombians in this emergency,” Duque stated.

The emergency funds will come from current Colombian government holdings in U.S. Treasury Bonds, which are already held in various banks.

“That money is [already] in banks and precisely what we want is that those resources, with projected [cash] flows to 2040, we can use for this social contingency,” Duque said.

Tapping these bonds rather than other government holdings is “precisely so as not to affect the strategic projects that are being carried out, precisely so that important projects that we have with territorial entities do not stop: the Metro de Bogotá, the ‘Regiotram,’ the Avenida 80 streetcar in Medellín; [highway] projects like Mar 1 and Mar 2 [in Antioquia], projects that are transcendental in the country, are not affected and can continue their course,” he added.

Meanwhile, departmental governments “have the right to tap savings from the Fonpet” -- that is, the National Pension Fund of the Territorial Entities, he added.

The National Federation of Departmental Governments and most departmental governors in Colombia “understood our idea, which is not to take away any resources from territorial entities,” Duque said.

Beyond tapping U.S. Treasury Bonds, Decree 444 also includes “additional measures such as the flexibility of royalty resources, budgets and the use of other collections to meet contingencies and public health measures in each of the regions,” Colombia’s Treasury Ministry added.

“The FOME will, as a loan, employ resources that have been saved in the Savings and Stabilization Fund (FAE) for times like this, as well as the resources of the National Pension Fund of Territorial Entities (FONPET) that will not be required until 2040," according to Treasury.

“Resources will be prioritized to meet the needs of the health sector, through the existing institutional framework, providing them with additional resources of more than COP$6 trillion (US$1.47 billion).

“One of the first expenses [from the fund] will be for buying additional tests to guarantee that the population has access to diagnostic tests, and also an important flow of resources so that our hospitals can increase their installed capacity, especially in intensive and intermediate-care units. Similarly, resources will be used to give additional help to doctors.

“Resources from the General System of Royalties -- to which the territorial entities are entitled at the time that monies are required -- are not committed [permanently]. These resources will be repaid, effective 2023.

“In the case of FONPET, these resources will be repaid in the next 10 years, which guarantees that the territorial entities can continue to comply with the payment of their pension obligations,” the Treasury Ministry concluded.


Medellin-based electric power giant EPM announced March 24 that Wall Street bond rater Moody’s just decided to maintain EPM’s “Baa3” investment-grade bond rating following its winning bid for the "CaribeMar” utility in Colombia’s Caribbean region.

“After the analysis of non-recurring issues that the company has been going through -- such as the [three-year start-up delay, to 2021] of the Hidroituango hydroelectric project since April 2018, and particularly considering the recent award of CaribeMar [auction] to EPM -- the rating firm Moody’s Investors Service reaffirmed the ‘Baa3’ investment grade rating for international bond issues and EPM’s corporate debt,” EPM revealed.

“Moody’s mentions that with the acquisition of CaribeMar, EPM further consolidates its leadership in the energy business in Colombia, going from a market share of approximately 23% to 35%. This will expand the provision of the energy distribution service in the northern departments of Bolívar, Cesar, Córdoba and Sucre.

“The rating firm also highlights operational synergies given the new acquisition in a geographic area adjacent to existing operations that will be of benefit to the entire business group,” EPM added.

XM: Coronavirus Cuts Power Demand

Elsewhere on the electric-power front, Medellin-based national power-market operator XM announced March 24 that Colombian power demand has fallen about 12% because of personal and corporate cutbacks since the emergence of the Coronavirus crisis.

“The implementation of preventive measures aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 has impacted the demand for electrical energy in the country, which during the [past] weekend had a reduction of up to 12% daily, compared to equivalent days” of the prior weekend, according to XM.

“In countries with similar conditions of social distancing as a consequence of COVID-19, [power-demand] reductions have been from 7% to 33%,”  XM added, citing new statistics from the U.S.-based Electric Power Research Institute.

Commenting on this phenomenon, XM general manager María Nohemi Arboleda stated: “The invitation to Colombians is that we continue to make responsible use of resources, abiding by the indications of staying at home as defined by the national government and, above all, protecting people’s health.”


While nearly all Colombia residents (including all of metro Medellin and Antioquia) remain under a national quarantine until April 13, governments, companies, hospitals and health researchers meanwhile are taking more steps to try to contain and (eventually) conquer Coronavirus threats.

Among recent examples:

“Pico y cedula” restrictions on grocery shopping: While the national quarantine allows many people to venture from their homes for food, medicines, hospital visits, cash withdrawals or other emergencies, several municipalities around Medellin (including Envigado, the biggest adjacent suburb) have adopted “pico y cedula” restrictions that limit grocery trips to certain days that correspond to the last digit of each individual cedula (the Colombian national proof-of-residency or citizenship card).

Government cash grants helping the poor. Colombia President Ivan Duque on March 24 announced yet another temporary cash subsidy program (averaging COP$160,000 or around US$50) for Colombia’s poorest populations, many of which are temporarily out-of-work because of the national quarantine.

This subsidy is in addition to existing subsidies for the 2.6 million families in the “Families in Action” welfare program, plus the “Youth in Action” and “Elderly” subsidy programs which also will include another temporary bonus of about COP$334,000 (US$100), in addition to regular monthly subsidies.

VAT refunds to the poor: On a related front, President Duque reiterated that “a momentous step will be taken with the start of the VAT [19% value-added tax] refund, a program that will reach close to 1 million families.”

Utility connections regardless of recent non-payment: Medellin-based utility giant EPM announced that thousands of residences that had experienced service cutoffs for non-payment of bills in recent weeks are now getting all utility services restored during the Coronavirus crisis.

Cheaper respirators: Medellin-based universities and research institutes including Universidad EIA, the “Grupo de Investigación en Bioinstrumentación e Ingeniería Clínica” (GIBIC at Universidad de Antioquia) and Industrias Médicas Sampedro are cooperating on a joint research initiative organized by #InnspiraMED to develop a relatively low-cost respirator specifically for patients suffering from Coronavirus.

Three prototypes under development await human trials and government approvals before mass production could begin – with many months more before commercialization, the developers cautioned.

Medellin-born ANDI – the national industrial/commercial trade association – added that “more than 100 volunteers from 20 academic institutions, the business sector and the public came together under the coordination of ANDI and [Medellin-based tech incubator] Ruta N to work with #InnspiraMED on three prototypes that can be rapidly scaled.

“The initial objective is to produce 2,000 respirators at a cost of US$1,000 each, for which donations of US$2 million are required,” according to ANDI. (For more info, see: http://www.andi.com.co/Uploads/INSPIRAMED.pdf).

More protective masks: The government of Antioquia, the city of Medellin and more than 30 local Antioquia companies announced March 24 a new initiative to produce more than 20 million masks designed to protect against Coronavirus, of which 1 million masks would be donated to health workers and vulnerable populations.

Protective suits for health workers: Medellin-based insurance giant Sura announced that it’s working with local companies (including Compañia de Empaques and clothing maker Crystal) on a prototype protective suit for health workers at risk of exposure to Coronavirus.

Following press reports incorrectly suggesting that this suit is close to commercial production, Seguros SURA issued this statement: “Seguros Sura Colombia clarifies that the suit for the protection of health personnel attending the Covid-19 situation is in the prototype stage and is not ready for mass production.”

More dedicated hospital beds: Medellin-based business promotion group Proantioquia announced March 24 that charitable foundations affiliated with Medellin-based corporate giants Grupo Argos, Grupo Sura, Grupo Nutresa, Corbeta, and Fundación Fraternidad Medellín just donated COP$15.8 billion (US$3.8 million) to boost Medellin’s intensive care unit (ICU) capacity by 25% -- starting with the Fundacion San Vicente hospitals in Medellin and Rionegro, Antioquia.

On a parallel front, the city of Medellin just donated COP$3 billion (US$ 733,000) to IPS Hospital Universidad (operated by University of Antioquia) to double the number of ICU beds -- for a new total of 88. More such ICU expansions at more hospitals will be required in future, cautioned Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero.

Paid vacations: Employees at major companies including Home Center, Coltejer, Fabricato, Cementos Argos and thousands of construction workers at EPM's giant "Hidroituango" hydroelectric plant in Antioquia have been given paid leave during the national quarantine, helping to reduce the threat of infections.

Regional bus terminals shuttered: Medellin just shut down its two major regional bus terminals (Terminal Norte and Terminal Sur) following the "puente" (three-day holiday) last weekend. The terminals had been allowed to operate until early March 24, enabling most travelers to return home just prior to the national quarantine that started on March 24.  However, Medellin's public "Metro" rail, bus, aerial-tram and road-tram systems remain open for the metro area.


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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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