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Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero announced April 24 a novel computerized registration scheme – unique in all Colombia -- for all employers and employees in the construction and manufacturing sectors that are reopening for business on April 27 in the Valle de Aburra metro area.

Employers are now registering their businesses (and their employees) at https://www.medellin.gov.co/irj/portal/medellin/acceso-formulario-permisos-empresas while employees also are registering themselves at https://www.medellin.gov.co/medellinmecuida/.

With this computerized information, enforcement officials will be able to track and control movements to-and-from workplaces as well as limit use of the Metro public transport system only to people authorized to venture out to work -- as well as those authorized for grocery, drugs and banking on “pico y cedula” days.

Companies that lack the new “Medellinmecuida” registrations will be shut down and fined, while individual persons lacking this registration likewise will be fined, he said.

In addition, registered companies that detect two or more cases of workers with Coronavirus will be shut down for at least 14 days, Mayor Quintero explained.

An estimated 800,000 people in the Medellin metro area are likely to make work trips starting April 27 -- thanks to the restart of manufacturing and construction sectors as allowed by new Colombian government regulations, Quintero said.

To aid enforcement and limit potential Coronavirus infections, Medellin police will have a new cell-phone app that can read and determine instantaneously whether any person stopped on the street, on the Metro system or at work is authorized to be circulating. Likewise, the Metro “Civica” card used to access the public transit system can be read by the same cell-phone app, thus helping to limit potential crowding and cross-infections.

Any non-complying person found on these detection sweeps will have their “Civica” card deactivated -- and if there’s Coronavirus symptoms detected on this person, then the employer’s business also can be shuttered.

While telecommuting is mandated by the national government wherever possible during this crisis, relatively Coronavirus-free bicycling options also are expanding with new dedicated bike lanes and every-10-minutes disinfections of the “Encicla” free bicycles tied to Medellin’s “Metro” system, Quintero added.

Simultaneously, “pico y placa” restrictions on vehicles also are being lifted to enable more people to avoid overcrowding on the “Metro” system, Quintero added.

Meanwhile, according to Colombia’s Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MinCIT), seven more sub-sectors of manufacturing are returning to work on April 27, including textiles and clothing; leather and shoe-making; woodworking; paper and cardboard manufacture; chemicals manufacture; metalworking; and manufacture of electrical equipment.

These businesses can stay open only if they meet strict, new Ministry of Health biosafety protocols including mandatory use of facemasks, workplace disinfection, worker health detection, removal of workers with symptoms, distancing rules and adherence to the 35% limit on mass transport capacity.

It’s up to local mayors and departmental governors to enforce these new biosafety protocols in coordination with Health Ministry officials and local and departmental health authorities, MinCIT Minister Jose Manuel Restrepo added.

These mayors and governors can shut-down any company or any industry that isn’t complying with these biosafety measures, he said.

On the other hand, companies that voluntarily decide not to reopen would forfeit access to multiple credit and financing programs created by the national government in response to the Coronavirus crisis, he added.

These industry/company shut-down rule provisions in the new MinCIT rules could for example help mayors to address fears about the health impacts of the partial economic reopening of construction and manufacturing sectors on April 27.

For example, Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez -- who is publicly fighting with President Ivan Duque over the partial reopening --  presumably could shutter manufacturing by citing her claims that the manufacturing industry in Bogota isn’t nearly ready to comply with biosafety rules on April 27. Nor is Bogota’s public transit system ready to accept a big surge of passengers, according to Mayor Lopez.


The Area Metropolitana de Valle de Aburra (AMVA) announced April 23 that Medellin and all its neighbors in Valle de Aburra will switch to a unified “pico y cedula” system restricting grocery, medicine and banking trips to certain days of the week during the Coronavirus quarantine.

The new order covers Medellin, Barbosa, Itagüí, Caldas, Sabaneta, La Estrella, Envigado, Bello, Copacabana and Girardota, according to AMVA.

So, starting next Monday (April 27), people with Colombia cedula numbers ending in 7 or 8 can venture out for groceries, drugs and banking, while people with cedulas ending in 9 or 0 can venture out the following day (Tuesday, April 28) -- with further successive number rotations on following days (see chart, above).

Then, on Monday, May 4, a new rotation starts, so people with cedulas ending in 2 or 3 can venture out, while those with cedulas ending in 4 or 5 can venture out on Tuesday, May 5, with further successive number rotations on following days.

Colombia's national quarantine is presumptively set to expire May 11.  But depending upon the evolution of the Coronavirus infection curve, it's possible that another 14-day extension could be announced. So, revised "pico y cedula" rules might be extended yet again starting May 11.

Most people 70 years and older, and all school-age students, will remain in mandatory quarantine until May 30 -- but have the same cedula/day excursion allowances.  

Meanwhile, the government potentially might announce further easings of quarantine restrictions on certain industries in coming days or weeks -- but coupled with strict health protocols that already apply to construction, manufacturing, mining, agriculture, food retailing, pharmacies and public services. 

 


Colombia President Ivan Duque announced last night (April 20) in a nationwide televised address that the current Coronavirus quarantine that had been set to expire April 27 instead will be extended another two weeks—to May 11.

Broader quarantines on vulnerable populations including school-age students and those over 70 will continue through May 30.

Aside from occasional emergency humanitarian flights, all international passenger flights will be banned through May 30. Even domestic passenger flights are doubtful aside from a few, potential exemptions, he added.

However, Colombia’s construction and manufacturing industries will be allowed to return to work – but only if following strict protocols to reduce the spread of Coronavirus infections.

Similarly, mass-transit systems in Colombia’s major cities (including metro Medellin) will begin a gradual return to normality -- but initially will run at maximum 35% capacity to provide more space between possibly infected passengers, he said.

In addition, all mass-transit passengers must wear protective masks and maintain at least one-meter distance from one-another, he said.
What’s more, “we are not going to have inter-municipal transport except for the exceptions that were already defined by the Ministry of Transport,” which can allow mixed freight/passenger transport -- but with reduced-capacity ceilings.

“Our first responsibility is the protection of life, health, but doing it hand-in-hand so that the Coronavirus does not end up generating an unemployment pandemic of poverty or recession,” President Duque said.

While construction and factory workers can return to work, office workers in construction and manufacturing will be required to telecommute via internet connections from home.

“Anyone who can continue to telework must do so to protect life and protect health,” he said.

Meanwhile, no mass-attendance events will be allowed. Bars, clubs, schools and universities will remain closed, but home-deliveries will be allowed from restaurants.

Vice-President, Ministers Explain Health Protocols

During the same televised address last night, Colombia Vice-President Marta Lucía Ramírez, Housing Minister Jonathan Malagón, and Transport Minister Ángela María Orozco provided more details on new biosecurity protocols for productive sectors and mass transport.

In many cases, workers will be required to wear protective clothing, masks and gloves, while disinfection campaigns typically will be mandatory at work spaces.

What’s more, manufacturers will require back-office workers to telecommute, Ramirez said.

As for the construction sector, Housing Minister Malagón added that a huge portion of this activity is in housing. “In the case of Colombia, there are more than 200,000 homes being built per year, the vast majority of which are already sold [to waiting buyers],” he said.

“There are 980,000 vulnerable workers that we have in the building sector, and if, eventually, the viability of their jobs is compromised, it would not only be from a macroeconomic point of view close to several percentage points of the unemployment rate, but we would start a tragic pilgrimage from formal employment to poverty, and that is what we are trying to prevent,” he added.

Regarding transportation, Minister Angela María Orozco pointed out that safe access to boarding/unboarding stations and terminals must be guaranteed, always respecting the minimum distance of one-to-two meters.

“Inside each [mass-transport] vehicle, there is a minimum distance of one meter between passengers. That’s what has led us to calculate that obviously the buses that are part of the mass transportation systems will not be able to carry more than 35% of their usual transportation capacity,” she said.

“It is also essential that each passenger wear a mask, and that is precisely why we are designing and, with the Ministry of Health, teaching citizens to make masks, as these are conventional masks, not the special masks for people who are in the health sector,” she added.

Health Ministry Sees Flattening Infection Curve

On a related front, Colombia’s National Institute of Health (“INS” in Spanish initials) announced April 20 that the national quarantine is indeed helping to flatten the growth curve of Coronavirus infections.

INS director Martha Lucía Ospina Martínez explained that a mathematical prediction model adopted by Colombia for the Covid-19 “has allowed us to understand what the cases or the maximum numbers that Colombia could have, what the dates would be and what would also be the critical moments” that could overwhelm the health-care sector.

Health Minister Fernando Ruiz added that person-to-person transmission of Coronavirus had started-out at a rate of 2.5 -- that is, one person could transmit it to 2.5 more persons.

But thanks to the quarantine measures and other restrictions, the rate fell to 1.5 “and at this moment, as we are evaluating the quarantine, we are approaching 1. I hope we get below that number, but it is evident that we are getting closer,” Ruiz said.

As of April 20, the Health Ministry confirmed 3,977 confirmed cases of Coronavirus nationally , with 189 deaths and 804 recoveries.

Bogota has the most cases ((1,682), followed by Cali/Valle del Cauca (683) and then Medellin/Antioquia (363), according to the Ministry.

 


The “Central Mayorista” wholesale produce market in the Medellin suburb of Itagüí just got a crucial “OK” grade from Antioquia’s Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development Rodolfo Correa Vargas during an April 18 personal inspection to check for Coronavirus prevention.

Correa visited the giant Central Produce Market – by far the largest in metro Medellin, serving the entire metropolitan area -- ”in order to verify compliance with biosafety protocols, price controls and the timely supply of products for the consumption of the Antioqueños,” according to an April 19 bulletin from the Antioquia departmental government.

A special sanitary-control board is now operating at the wholesale center, composed of the center’s own board of directors, its top management, the Mayor of Itagüí and the Health Department Secretariats of Antioquia and Itagüí, according to the Antioquia government.

“People can be absolutely calm and assured because we know that the Central Produce Market is the heart of Antioquia department’s [fresh-food] supply,” Secretary Correa stated.

Beyond daily, continuing sanitary inspections and controls, the market also underwent a comprehensive disinfection of exhibition and marketing areas on April 18, according to the departmental government.

In addition, merchants operating at the Central Market “will acquire an electronic thermometer so that the temperature and symptoms of workers and buyers entering this large supply center are permanently monitored,” according to the departmental government.

Anyone entering or working at the Center also must be wearing a proper face mask -- and disinfectants are provided “to ensure that the space is kept clean and free from pathogens,” according to the government.

Special focus on Central Mayorista came in the wake of unrelated Coronavirus contamination issues among some workers around Medellin's Central Minorista retail market near downtown Medellin last week -- an issue that triggered a massive disinfection operation, following a mandatory closure.


It’s a tale of two countries: U.S. President Donald Trump announced April 15 that Coronavirus-crisis emergency loan funds to help U.S. businesses meet payroll are exhausted – just as 22 million more North Americans hit the unemployment lines -- yet Colombia simultaneously expanded its loan programs by COP$16 trillion (US$4.06 billion).

Colombia Treasury Minister Alberto Carrasquilla announced April 15 that the Board of Directors of the National Guarantee Fund (FNG) made the decision to “create three lines of credit and to implement them very quickly.”

The three new lines of credit “will benefit micro-, small- and medium-sized companies (MSMEs) and independent [sole-proprietor] entrepreneurs in the country, and will include loan guarantees of 90% and 80%,” according to the Treasury Ministry.

According to the Ministry, the first line of credits will help MSMEs to meet payrolls "by granting 90% [payback] loan guarantees.”

Through this program, banks and lenders know that “if something goes wrong, the first resources that are lost are not those of the financial institution, but those that the government put in the form of a guarantee,” he said.

“All those employers who are defending their workers and are honoring their labor contracts receive all that support. And the total sum of that line of credit is COP$12 trillion [US$3.05 billion],” he added.

A new, second line of credit worth COP$3 trillion (US$762 million) includes an 80% government loan guarantee and is directed to support working capital. Rationale: MSMEs are not only affected by payroll obligations, but also by “the need for working capital and the financing of their provisions, their suppliers, etcetera,” Carrasquilla said.

The third new line of credit totaling COP$1 trillion (US$254 million) carries an 80% loan guarantee and will be dedicated to helping independent entrepreneurs, he said.

Commissions on these loans will be slashed by 75% via government subsidiy, Minister Carrasquilla added.

Meanwhile, to date, the Treasury Ministry reports that because of new, recently liberalized lines-of-credit backed by the FNG, “Colombian banks have restructured COP$90 trillion [US$23 billion] in loans for the benefit of the productive sector.”

“At this time, Colombian banks have restructured more than 5.4 million credits” just between March 24 to April 10, Carrasquilla revealed.

In addition to more-generous loan terms thanks to new FNG programs, the government also has liberalized payments of income and wealth taxes to help businesses survive the crisis, he added.

The Minister also highlighted support from Banco de la República (the Colombian state bank) by making decisions to ease liquidity for financial institutions.

“The traditional standard in Colombia is [for banks] to have liquidity availability of the order of COP$8 trillion [US$2.03 billion] to COP$9 trillion [US$2.3 billion]. Right now, there are [funding] availabilities of more than COP$24 trillion [US$6.1 billion],” he added.


Colombia President Ivan Duque announced April 15 that while the current national Coronavirus quarantine is presumptively set to expire April 27, regular international passenger flights to and from Colombia nevertheless will continue to be banned.

Even after April 27 when the current national quarantine ends, “international flights will remain closed for a longer period of time,” Duque said, citing public health concerns.

As for domestic passenger flights within Colombia, “we are reviewing protocols in terms of health” and “looking at where there are areas that are currently free of the virus, and that we want to remain virus-free, and where we can work with local authorities” on the possibility of reopening some domestic passenger routes, he added.

“We are looking at how the [air passenger] protocols are going in many countries of the world. You have noticed that there are many countries that, for example, are already limiting the use of the middle seat [on a three-seat row], so that allows more distance. The use of a mask is being demanded, and food is no longer being distributed on flights of less than an hour or two.

“To the extent that we have certain, assured levels of control, where fever monitoring is also included, among others, I think we can take steps” toward eventual resumption of limited domestic air travel, he concluded.


The “Comite de Cafeteros de Antioquia” (CCA, the Antioquia coffee-growers association) announced April 14 that Colombia’s Health Ministry has approved a new biosafety protocol that will enable resumption of coffee harvesting -- a crucial export commodity both for Antioquia and Colombia.

“Between March and June, it is expected that the first-semester [first half of 2020] national harvest will be about 6.5 million bags of coffee, a task that requires about 135,000 collectors,” according to CCA.

“With the validation by the Ministry of Health and to protect the health of producers, gatherers and their families, the National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC) prepared and published the ‘COVID-19 Protocol for Coffee Growers,’ a detailed, step-by-step [manual] to prevent the spread and contagion of the new coronavirus, especially at this time of harvest.

“The protocol, written in simple language and explaining the recommendations to be followed, covers topics such as basic care for the interruption of the Covid-19 contagion chain, preparation and use of disinfecting solutions, use of personal protection elements, cleaning activities and disinfection, preventive social isolation and measures for farms that require local or external labor.

“Due to its usefulness for other agricultural sectors that can take advantage of it as a replicable model, the FNC makes this protocol available to the public, which can be found at www.federacióndecafeteros.org,” the trade group added.

Meanwhile, Antioquia’s Agriculture Secretary likewise issued a bulletin to all mayors in the department of Antioquia urging widespread promotion of mandatory biosafety protocols for all types of agricultural workers -- including transporters of farm products as well as farm supplies.


Colombia President Ivan Duque revealed April 13 that his government is now preparing certain regulatory “protocols” that will allow many people currently in Coronavirus quarantine to return to work, many businesses to reopen and the national economy to restart.

“We are preparing to beat the Coronavirus, rather than letting the Coronavirus beat us and destroy everything we have built,” according to President Duque.

“What does that mean? That companies, that services, that we in the provision of specific activities have protocols that allow us not only to have sufficient distance [between potentially infected people] but also sufficient measures in terms of biosafety,” he said.

To that end, the Ministry of Health is preparing a special regulation that will compile and explain biosafety protocols to confront the Covid-19 threat, “aimed at all sectors of economic, social and public administration activity in the country,” according to the President.

“We have to advance the protocols. For this reason, we will issue a decree where the competent authority to set all biosafety protocols to deal with Covid-19, in all sectors of economic, social and public administration activity, is the Ministry of Health,” he said.

Under such protocols, workers typically will need to wear masks, maintain certain separation distances, and “many will have to wear gloves [while] some will be able to work from home,” he said.

“The Coronavirus is going to be around for a long time, and so we have to be able to restore a lot of our productive life [in the meantime] so that our country doesn’t fail, and we have to do it with safety rules,” he said.

“There are places where there is a greater presence of the virus, and there are other places where there is a moderate presence of the virus. There are also places where there is no presence of the virus. We have to design the response capacities based on these territorial realities, obviously, working to maintain the greatest protection and the greatest [where-required] isolation,” he added.

As for mass transport sectors, “we have to design protocols, schedules, and schemes that allow people to use mass public transport, but do so without regret, do so with due distances, and with the [proper] protocols,” he said.


The International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced April 9 that its executive board will recommend approval of a US$10.8 billion line-of-credit request to help Colombian businesses and workers weather the economic downturn caused by the Coronavirus crisis.

“This renewable credit line helps safeguard against external shocks by providing countries who have very strong policy frameworks and track records of economic performance with large, upfront access to IMF resources -- with no ongoing conditions,” according to IMF.

“Given Colombia’s very strong policy frameworks and track record, IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva intends to recommend approval of the 2020 flexible credit line [FCL] arrangement for Colombia when the IMF executive board meets again to take a decision in the following weeks,” according to the organization.

In addition to the Colombian Treasury Ministry’s new expansion of finance totaling COP$12 trillion (US$3.3 billion) to micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises through the “Fondo Nacional de Garantias” (FNG, National Guarantee Fund), Colombia President Ivan Duque announced April 9 further aid to help small/medium businesses meet payroll.

Government loan guarantees for MSMEs will increase to 80%, up from a prior range of 60% to 70%, Duque announced.

In addition, under the new aid program, the Colombian government will “finance for three months those payrolls of micro-, small and medium enterprises [MSMEs], especially covering people earning up to five monthly [minimum] salaries [COP$4.9 million/US$1,260],” according to President Duque.

Vice Minister of Finance Juan Alberto Londoño added that the payroll-finance scheme will enable MSMEs to issue bonds to be acquired by the financial system.

The government also will waive mandatory pension contributions for the next three months, aiming to help both workers and employers to reduce expenses. However, those already retired will continue to receive their normal pensions, he added.


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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.

Medellin Herald welcomes your editorial contributions, comments and story-idea suggestions. Send us a message using the "contact" section.

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