Sunday, September 27, 2020

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Colombia’s Health Ministry announced August 30 that passengers traveling to San Andres island -- or any other Colombian Department (state) with special vulnerability to Covid-19 outbreaks -- must get a Coronavirus test within 48 hours prior to boarding the aircraft.

What’s more, “pilot” international flights starting in September will require passengers to pass a Covid-19 test prior to boarding any such flight, the Interior Ministry announced.

Such restrictions potentially could expand beyond certain areas to include many more domestic flights – not just international flights -- if mayors and governors in certain areas decide that passenger flights threaten to cause more Covid-19 outbreaks.

According to the new Health Ministry bulletin, “for those Departments with a Covid-19 contagion rate of less than 1,000 per 100,000 inhabitants and whose main access route from other departments is only by air, a special protocol is established in order to protect the population.

“People who wish to travel to these destinations must have a Covid-19 antigen test, which must be negative. The result of the test should not be greater than 48 hours before boarding the plane, and it should be carried out by the laboratories provided by the EPS [health insurance network].

“The cost of the test will be assumed during the first 60 days by the [Colombia] health system. Authorization for taking the tests will be made with the purchase and issuance of the ticket.
Alternatively, the person may pay for the test with their own resources,” according to the Ministry.

Test results “will be sent to Coronapp [cell-phone application] and will be delivered to travelers, who must present the result before boarding the plane.

“If the result is positive, [then] you will not be able to make the trip and will have to refrain from showing up at the airport and maintain isolation at home.

“Installation of the Coronapp application is mandatory for at least one member of the family or group where they must register the trip and present [evidence of the installed application] at the airport.”

On a parallel track, origin and destination airport personnel must take body-temperature readings and screen for possible Covid-19 symptoms, according to the Ministry.

“All biosafety protocols must also be complied with by both workers and travelers, which include permanent hand washing, physical distancing, avoiding crowds and permanent and correct use of masks,” according to the Ministry.

“In the event that a traveler exhibits symptoms before the flight, this person must immediately inform the airline, as well as their EPS, and consequently this person will not be able to fly. If this situation occurs at the destination and the result of a Covid-19 test is positive, [then] that person or more members of that family must do strict isolation-in-place as determined by the local authorities.

“In this case, it is the traveler who will assume the cost of the isolation process. In addition, the airline must reissue the return ticket to the city of origin only after the period of isolation or quarantine has ended, determined by the health authority,” according to the Ministry.

Travel to San Andrés

From the first week of September, flights to San Andrés are now allowed, the Ministry noted.

“For those travelers to this destination, it is important to take into account the following protocol:

“1. Once the air ticket is purchased, the antigen test for Covid-19 must be performed, the result of which, in order to travel, must be negative. In addition, this result cannot be greater than 48 hours prior to your trip. To take the test, consider the following steps:

“2. Contact the following phone lines: in Bogotá (1) 307-7171; Medellín (4) 448-6115 – 444-7428, and Cali (2) 386-5666, to schedule the appointment for taking this sample.

“3. Taking the sample is free and can be done in person at the laboratory, at an autolab (without having to get out of the vehicle) or at home, for which an additional cost must be paid. The result of the test will arrive to your email, six hours after the taking.

“4. On the day of your trip, show up at the airport with your identity document, ticket and the result of the Covid-19 test. Without these documents you will not be able to travel.

“5. During the stay on San Andres island, if one of the members of the traveling group has symptoms, then they should contact their EPS or go to a hospital.

“6. In case of positive Covid-19 test results, strict isolation will be carried out at the Iguana Gorda hotel [on San Andres island] in order to activate the protocol and the airline will extend the ticket until this period is completed,” according to the Ministry.

International Flight ‘Pilot’ Tests

Meanwhile, Colombia President Ivan Duque announced August 30 that a few “pilot” test flights to and from international destinations will begin in September.

“We are going to begin to reestablish those international flights,” Duque said during a nationally televised address on the Covid-19 situation.

“Obviously, the [international flights] will not yet be as dynamic, fully, as we had before the pandemic,” he said.

“We are already identifying those routes. We have already had requests from [the Mayors of] Barranquilla, Cartagena, Medellín [and] Pereira,” he said.

Ministry of the Interior spokesman Daniel Palacios added during the broadcast that all major and many smaller airports in Colombia will be open as of September 1.

“We are developing biosecurity protocols for international flights where, at a minimum, there will have to be a negative test (of Covid-19) by the traveler entering the national territory,” Palacios said.


Área Metropolitana del Valle de Aburrá (AMVA, the Medellin metro council of governments) announced last night (August 30) that “pico y cedula” shopping restrictions have at long last been abolished.

Such restrictions had been imposed in the Medellin metro area since late March, aiming to help thwart the spread of Covid-19 infections.

While Colombia’s national government has extended the Covid-19 “limited quarantine” through November 30, “Mayors of Valle de Aburrá establish that as of August 31, 2020, the metropolitan area ‘Pico y Cédula’ will no longer apply,” according to the AMVA bulletin.

Instead, each of the 10 municipalities within AMVA “will take appropriate gradual opening measures for each municipality,” according to the organization.

“Pico y cedula” shopping restrictions had been applied to Medellín, Bello, Envigado, Itagüi, Sabaneta, La Estrella, Caldas, Copacabana, Barbosa and Girardota (the AMVA council members) as well as many other towns and cities throughout Antioquia and Colombia.

The new, more-liberal standard comes as the metro area is starting to experience a plateau in Covid-19 cases and stabilization in demand for intensive care unit (ICU) beds, according to the local mayors.

However, mass gatherings and parties with family or friends “are prohibited, because these activities are the cause of further spread of the virus,” according to AMVA. In addition, people here must wear face masks in public places, and office workers are encouraged to telecommute rather than travel to offices.

Nationwide, as of August 30, Colombia now has recorded a cumulative total of 607,938 cases of Covid-19 since tracking began six months ago, with 450,621 recoveries and 19,364 deaths.

Bogota has the most cumulative cases (209,250) followed by Antioquia/Medellin (79,784); Atlantico (64,007); Cali/Valle del Cauca (46,549); Bolivar (25,147); Cundinamarca (22,772); Cordoba (19,568)); Santander (17,733); Nariño (13,990); Magdalena (12,289); Sucre (11,624); Norte de Santander (11,608); Cesar (10,514); Meta (8,775); Tolima (7,039); Risaralda (6,105); Cauca (5,247); Caqueta (5,860); La Guajira (5,024); Huila (5,007); Boyaca (3,761); and Choco (3,719), according to the Health Ministry.


Colombia’s Health Ministry officially announced August 27 that it no longer intends to block international flights to and from Colombia. But other nations have yet to reciprocate.

“After analysis with epidemiological information that suggests that Colombia is reaching the peak and observing a reduction in the speed of transmission of Covid-19, added to other estimates, the national government considers that conditions do not persist to keep international flights closed,” according to the Health Ministry bulletin.

“In consideration of the current state of the pandemic in Colombia, since it is unlikely that the flights will further increase transmission and the progressive opening that is allowed [under newly modified Colombian quarantine rules taking effect September 1], conditions do not persist to maintain closed international flights to and from the major capitals of the country.”

However, Colombia’s Civil Air Administration (Aerocivil) -- along with health/transport regulators in other nations -- also must evaluate whether such flights “would have a potential impact and if [they] will produce significant changes in the incidence of the pandemic,” according to the Ministry.

“The Ministry has been making a continuous analysis of international studies on the risk of spreading Covid-19 through national and international flights. It has been concluded that the risk varies according to the evolution of the pandemic in the places of origin and destination.

“However, already in a context of community circulation of the virus -- local transmission or community transmission -- many countries have also recently restarted international travel and many others are preparing to start them,” according to the new Ministry analysis.

“If the biosecurity measures already established [in Colombia] for domestic flights are met, [then] the probability of a traveler becoming infected with covid-19 is less than 1%, according to the Barnett study (2020),” according to the Ministry.

“Regarding the possibility of [infection] risk in recipient [cities and nations], this is reduced if strategies such as contact tracing and selective isolation of contacts are implemented, as well as measures at airports.

“In this sense, it is considered that the opening of international flights should be done in consideration of the international health regulations and the biosafety protocols defined by the Ministry of Health, with permanent monitoring of their epidemiological impact,” the Ministry concludes.


Colombia Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MinCIT) Minister José Manuel Restrepo confirmed August 27 that tourism throughout Colombia restarts September 1 -- including intercity private-car, bus and airplane transport modes.

With the lifting of “pico y cedula” restrictions in Medellin, Rionegro and other nearby cities starting next week, that means that people here can at long last start making trips to towns, tourist destinations, hotels and restaurants throughout Antioquia and across Colombia -- but limited by Health Ministry protocols.

What's more, local mayors in areas with relatively high Covid-19 incidence can impose extra restrictions or bans, in coordination with Colombia’s Health, Transport and Interior Ministries. So the broader reopenings may not be as universal or as liberal as some might hope.

In addition, strict Health Ministry protocols will continue on all transport sectors, destinations, hotels, restaurants and public spaces.

For example: mass gatherings -- including family-and-friends gatherings – are strictly banned because these are the main sources of Covid-19 cross-contaminations, according to the Health Ministry.

Likewise, hotel occupancy cannot exceed 30% -- and restaurants also must enforce social-distancing limits to prevent contaminations. Nor can sit-down bars offer liquor.

“All commerce can operate again from September 1, with compliance with biosecurity protocols,” Minister Restrepo stated.

Both Medellin airports (JMC and EOH) meanwhile are expanding domestic flights in September, with Bogota-JMC and Bogota-EOH flights expected to start by mid-month. Flights to-and-from Cali and JMC start next week, while EOH hosts flights to-and-from 10 Colombian cities (see Medellin Herald August 25, 2020).

International flights continue to be banned, however. Colombia alone cannot control this mode, as origin/destination cities and nations, regulatory agencies and airlines also must coordinate complex approvals and protective measures -- such as mandatory tests for Covid-19 infections prior to boardings and arrivals.


Colombia President Ivan Duque announced last night (August 24) that the national Covid-19 quarantine –which includes many current exemptions -- will continue through November 30.

The announcement potentially could trip-up Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero's new plan to lift "pico y cedula" shopping restrictions starting next week. Area Metropolitana de Valle de Aburra (AMVA, the Medellin metro council of governments) has yet to announce any decision on "pico y cedula" restrictions for September.

Meanwhile, as of September 1, the national quarantine evolves from “a system where we had exceptions to one of specific restrictions,” according to President Duque.

The more-liberal quarantine system arises because “we are in a phase where we have reached a kind of plateau [in Covid-19 cases] with a downward trend,” he said.

“We are no longer going to be governed by exceptions, but by specific restrictions, where restrictions will apply to events and crowds, where we will continue to advance in the opening of sectors with the protocols that have been established by the Ministry of Health,” Duque stated in a nationally televised address.

To combat the pandemic, Colombia has adopted tiered regulations for municipalities with low, medium and high incidences of coronavirus infections.

Under the new scenario, Colombia will have “very clear guidelines on issues such as national air transport, which we want to open much more quickly, but obviously with special observance in those highly affected municipalities,” he said.

In parallel, “we cannot relax, we cannot lower our guard and we all have to assume greater responsibility for self-care in exercising physical distancing” along with mandatory use of masks in public spaces and frequent hand-washing.

The modified scheme also will continue to encourage office workers to work from home in order to reduce cross-contamination risks, he added.

As for possible school reopenings, “very strict protocols will continue to be applied with the mayors and with the [Health] secretariats, so that it is a gradual process, thinking about the health and safety of children.” However, many schools and universities will continue to offer classes via internet rather than in-person.

As for restaurant reopenings, government health protocols will require distance-and-capacity limits and also encourage open-air service, he said.

“We are also advancing with more than 600 municipalities in an opening in many other services such as gyms,  and we will also hope to take steps very clearly so that inter-municipal transport is also guided by those patterns,” he added.


Area Metropolitana de Valle de Aburrá (AMVA, the metro Medellin council of governments) announced last night (August 15) that all 10 municipalities in AMVA are switching to a two-digit “pico y cedula” rotation starting Tuesday, August 18, all the way through Sunday, August 30.

The “pico y cedula” regulation applies to Medellín, Bello, Envigado, Itagüi, Sabaneta, La Estrella, Caldas, Copacabana, Barbosa and Girardota, according to AMVA.

The new, more-liberal rotation -- eliminating weekend lockdowns -- comes as the metro area is starting to experience a plateau in Covid-19 cases and stabilization in demand for intensive care unit (ICU) beds, now at 75% of capacity in Medellin.

AMVA credits Covid-19 plateauing to the “4x3” regulatory scheme that over the past four three-day weekends mandated a near-total lockdown of most citizens (most workers and all shoppers) -- paired with four days/week of shopping-and-errands privileges via the “pico y cedula” rotations.

Under the new scheme, people with cedulas ending in 0 or 1 can resume normal shopping-and-errands ventures starting August 18, with subsequent number rotations in following days (see chart, above).

Commenting on the new scheme, Medellín Mayor Daniel Quintero added that while AMVA is lifting the lockdowns over the coming two weekends, “citizens are expected to assume an attitude of responsibility, compliance with biosafety protocols and care for the elderly,” the latter group being the most vulnerable to Covid-19 mortality.

Caldas Mayor Mauricio Cano added that “our call is to maintain preventive isolation at home [that is, aside from pico-y-cedulas privileges], use the face mask, wash hands constantly and maintain social distancing.”

Mass gatherings and parties with family or friends “are prohibited, because these activities are the cause of further spread of the virus,” the AMVA bulletin adds.

Health Ministry Covid-19 Case Update

According to Colombia’s Health Ministry, Antioquia recorded another 1,751 new cases of Covid-19 on August 15 -- 960 of which were in Medellin – along with 55 more deaths, 29 of which were in Medellin. Since Health Ministry tracking began six months ago, Antioquia has recorded 60,873 cases of Covid-19, with 48,570 recoveries so far and 1,121 deaths.

As of August 15, 863 Covid-19 patients are in hospitals in Antioquia, 420 of which are in ICUs, pushing the ICU occupation rate here to 81%.

Nationwide, Colombia now has recorded a cumulative total of 456,689 cases of Covid-19 since tracking began six months ago, with 274,420 recoveries and 14,810 deaths.

Bogota has the most cumulative cases (158,674) followed by Antioquia/Medellin (60,873); Atlantico (60,542); Cali/Valle del Cauca (36,847); Bolivar (21,593); Cundinamarca (14,572); Cordoba (12,231); Nariño (11,273); Magdalena (9,915); Santander (9,608); Sucre (8,443); Norte de Santander (6,500); Meta (5,014); Tolima (4,327) ; Choco (3,439) and Cauca (3,222).


Colombia’s Health Ministry announced July 17 that because of recent court decisions, people 70-and-over now legally enjoy two-hours-per-day outdoor exercise privileges – not just three times/week under the Covid-19 regulations, but rather every single day.

Problem: Medellin simultaneously is banning all outdoor exercise by all persons – not just seniors – until Sunday, July 26 in the downtown Candelaria area (barrio 10) and until Tuesday, July 21 in the rest of Medellin.

The ban on outdoor exercise by all persons is just part of the new “orange alert” order here aiming to stifle a potentially overwhelming surge of Covid-19 cases in the next few weeks throughout Valle de Aburra.

While banning outdoor exercise, Medellin’s “Inder” sports-and-exercise promotion agency instead is now sponsoring Facebook Live exercise sessions so that people can enjoy supervised, coordinated exercise programs in the relative safety of their homes.

Meanwhile -- aside from Medellin -- the Colombian Health Ministry announced that “adults over 70 years of age . . . can develop physical activities, exercise outdoors and play sports individually for a maximum period of two hours a day, every day” -- or at least until a higher court eventually rules on the national government’s appeal, aiming to overturn the lower-court ruling.

People 70-and-older total only 7% of all Covid-19 cases, but they account for 50% of all Covid-19 deaths in Colombia and have a 40% chance of dying from the disease -- far greater than any other age group, Health Ministry statistics show. That’s why the national government has tried to impose tougher Covid-19 regulatory provisions on seniors venturing outdoors, where the chances of dangerous exposures to infected people are much greater.


The Medellin Mayor’s Office announced July 1 that it is intensifying biosafety inspections and shutdowns of retail outlets that fail to comply with strict controls designed to thwart Covid-19 infections.

Meanwhile, the Area Metropolitana de Valle de Aburra (AMVA, the Medellin metro government coordinating agency) announced June 30 that “pico y cedula” restrictions will continue on Friday, July 3 – Colombia’s second of three scheduled tax-free shopping days.

This means that in our metro area – including Barbosa, Copacabana, Bello, Medellín, Envigado, Itagüí, Sabaneta, La Estrella and Caldas -- only people with cedulas ending in even-numbers (0,2,4,6,8) can go out shopping on July 3.

On a related front, Colombia President Ivan Duque announced June 29 that shopping for home appliances, computers and cell phones at large-format stores -- on July 3 as well as subsequent tax-free shopping days -- must be done via internet rather than in-person, to avoid dangerous overcrowding. Pickup and delivery of such items also must be staggered over subsequent days in order to avoid overcrowding that otherwise could cause a spike in coronavirus infections, President Duque added.

According to the Medellin Mayor’s Office, “during the coronavirus contingency, 193 establishments have been visited to verify compliance with biosafety protocols” and “27% of the establishments have received closure measures until they apply corrective measures and comply with the [biosafety] norms.”

Medellin Health Secretary Andree Uribe added that special precautions must be taken for the upcoming tax-free sales days.

“It is very important to bear in mind that this process is one of co-responsibility, where citizens carry out all biosecurity measures such as hand washing, social distancing and the use of masks, and the retailers guarantee [biosafety compliance] in the interior [of the store], even when the capacity is 35%, which we have put as maximum for the entrance to the establishments,” she said.

Stores also must comply with Decree 0573 of 2020, which requires entry-and-exit controls along with data capture on every person visiting, which subsequently must be uploaded to the “Medellín Me Cuida” computerized data platform that aids contact-tracing and Covid-outbreak-avoidance.

As for shoppers, the Health Secretary urges people to “wear comfortable garments that are easy to clean and disinfect, avoid using accessories on your hands that make hygiene difficult, make frequent use of antibacterial gels, do not touch your face, avoid constantly adjusting your face mask and remember that social distancing is key, since using only the mask is not enough when the contact is close.

“Upon arrival at the store, verify that the establishment complies with protocols to enter, [including] requests for cedula and ['Medellin Me Cuida'] registration, temperature taking, shoe cleaning, disinfection of hands, close access to sinks, access control to avoid accumulation people inside and good ventilation. If you identify long lines or accumulation of people inside, [then] avoid entering.

“When you get home, remove your shoes, take off your clothes and wash them separately. Take a shower and disinfect the items you purchased.

“In the following days, be very alert to any symptoms and report them immediately. Also, continue to avoid close contacts,” the Health Secretary added.


Colombia’s Health and Transport Ministers on July 1 unveiled long-awaited aviation biosecurity protocols – hoping to spur more economic recovery, but also aiming to minimize Covid-19 infections for all future domestic passenger flights.

However, mayors and departmental governors get the final say on whether and when to allow any flights, according to the new protocol.

Neither Medellin's international airport at Rionegro nor the downtown Olaya Herrera airport in Medellin will allow any flights until all mayors in the metropolitan area agree that it's safe to restart -- even on a "pilot" test basis, as Antioquia Acting Governor Luis Fernando Suárez announced June 30.

Any future flights to or from Medellin's airports -- if approved by mayors here -- would be restricted to origin cities with very low levels of Covid-19 incidence, such as Pereira, Manizales, Armenia or Bucaramanga, he said.  Governor Suárez added that flights to areas with high incidence of Covid-19 such as Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena or Bogotá are absolutely out-of-the-question.

“The biosecurity protocol for the prevention of Covid-19, prepared by Civil Aeronautics and authorized by the Ministry of Health and Social Protection in Resolution 1054 of June 27, 2020, establishes the measures that must be adopted for the operation of the airports and airlines, from the arrival of the passenger to the air terminals of the city of origin until their disembarkation and departure at the destination,” according to the official July 1 press bulletin from Colombia's Health and Transport Ministries.

“In the technical meetings and analyses prior to issuing the protocol, the international experiences of organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Airports Council International (ACI), the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Latin American Civil Aviation Commission (CLAC), the Latin American and Caribbean Association of Air Transport (ALTA), as well as those of civil aviation authorities from China, Canada, South Korea were included. Concepts from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) were also taken into account,” according to the joint statement.

The new protocol includes many restrictions:

1. Passengers must arrive two hours maximum before the scheduled time of their flight, and with their electronic check-in ready, to avoid delays and congestion.

2. For exceptional cases of passengers who have not been able to check in previously, they will be allowed to enter and will be sent to the airline’s ticket module.

3. Passengers should only carry personal luggage, bags or small backpacks that can be kept under the passenger seat. The rest of the luggage must be sent to the baggage compartment in the plane.

4. It will be recommended to use the ‘CoronApp-Colombia’ application for all people entering the country's airports, with all the data completed. This allows the authorities to have information on the passengers about their health condition.

5. Only passengers and those who work in the terminals will be allowed to enter.

6. Body temperature measurement will be employed on all people entering an airport and on arrival of flights. Thermometers that do not involve physical contact will be used.

7. All persons, without exception, passengers and workers who are in an airport must use personal protection elements – that is, face masks.

8. Once passenger identities and boarding passes have been verified, they should immediately go to the boarding lounges, in order to avoid crowds from forming.

9. Those responsible for operating airports must disinfect and clean all areas, boarding rooms, public areas, among others, as established by biosafety protocols.

10. Boarding will not begin until the aircraft is fully ready for passengers to enter.

11. All airport users, crews and employees are obliged to respect the physical distance of two meters in areas such as counters, scanners and in the lines for boarding aircraft.

12. Inside the aircraft, no service will be provided on board, and travelers will be asked not to use on-board entertainment systems such as screens, mobile phones, among others. If possible, aircraft toilets should not be used.

13. Passengers and crew will wear face masks at all times during the flight. Likewise, passengers must remain seated during the flight.

14. Upon landing, the flight attendant will instruct passengers to disembark in an orderly and row-based manner.

15. All passengers must report to their EPS [health provider/insurance network] and to the airline if, during the 14 days after their flight, they present symptoms that coincide with Covid-19 disease.


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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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