Every day, at six in the afternoon and without fail, the Colombian President, Mr. Iván Duque is the host of a television special dedicated to the response to the coronavirus crisis. The program has already completed more than 100 shows since it began in March 2020. Although in my opinion it is a bit excessive, the idea behind this television special is to keep people aware of what is happening regarding the Covid-19.
The quarantined life
Let’s start by saying that Mandatory Preventive Isolation period in Colombia is a period of physical and social distancing that has developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes a set of sanitary measures and daily routine changes at an economic, social and political level in order to control the health crisis.
Let’s be clear about this aspect, according to the FAO (organization of the united nations for food and agriculture) it is estimated that in Colombia 2.7 million Colombians, that is, 5.5% of the population is at risk of malnutrition, being children under 5 who are at increased risk of vulnerability.
This period, that of isolation, began to take effect on March 25, 2020. Initially it was decreed for 19 days, but it has been extended in stages.
Trying to reopen the country
After months and months of forced quarantine, the government has decided that the productive life of the country must be gradually recovered. That is understandable since nobody can bear to live on air and end the few savings that are available. It is important to note that in Colombia there are many people who do not manage to save since all private and informal economy in the country is immense.
Being more specific, from May 4, 2020 the opening plan for some sectors such as manufacturing and construction began. The next day, the extension of the quarantine for two more weeks was announced.
On May 28th the isolation was extended until July 1st and on June 23rd it was extended until July 15th and more exceptions were added for the opening of new economic sectors. On July 9th, the president announced that the isolation period would be extended once more, and this time it would be until August 1st.
“What we do is extend the concept of Mandatory Preventive Isolation until August 1, but with some modifications that are important in what has to do with recovery of productive life and also other spaces of quality of life,” assured the Head of State, Mr. Ivan Duque.
Some of the exceptions are:
** The development of physical activities, outdoor exercise and sports practice individually of people who are in the age range of 18 to 69 years, for a maximum period of two (2) hours per day.
** The development of physical activities and outdoor exercise of children over 6 years old, three (3) times a week, one (1) hour a day.
** The development of physical activities and outdoor exercise of children between two (2) and five (5) years, three (3) times a week, half an hour a day.
**The development of physical activities and outdoor exercise of adults over 70 years, for a maximum period of two (2) hours daily.
** Private security and surveillance services, prison and penitentiary services.
** The activities of the construction sector, execution of civil works and the remodeling of buildings, as well as the supply of materials and supplies exclusively destined for their execution.
** Military Forces, the National Police and State security agencies, as well as the military and defense industry, and officials of the Attorney General’s Office and the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences.
** Family police stations and police inspections, as well as their users.
So, as we can see, there is hypocrisy even in the quarantine itself. There is no point in having an isolation regulation created to mitigate a health pandemic if there are more than 35 exceptions to the rule? Whose thought about this?
It’s simple: if you can’t get out, you can’t get out. If you have to wear a mask, you have to do it. If you have to disinfect and keep your distance, there is no other option! Why are there so many permissions and exceptions during a mandatory isolation?
To promote this reopening, the Colombian president organized the day without VAT (día sin IVA). It was proposed as three days in which Colombians could buy mostly household appliances without having to pay VAT.
The first of the three days was June 19th, then July 3rd, and the third day that had to take place on July 19th was canceled.
In theory, this day (day without VAT) is a dream for anyone who wants to buy. But, in the midst of a health pandemic, this concept of a day without VAT must be well managed or it ends in catastrophe … and unfortunately that is what happened.
The fateful day without VAT
From very early hours on Friday, June 19th, (the first day without VAT), hundreds of people crowded into different shopping centers in the country to take advantage of the day without VAT. In the shopping centers you could find all kinds of people: those who knew exactly what they would buy and others who were simply there to see what they could buy. Be that as it may, people finally had an excuse to leave their homes after months of confinement.
“I went to the Exito at Unicentro here in Cali. I knew exactly what I was going to buy.” – Andrés Abadía –
We are in an absurd world … crowds in the midst of a pandemic in which distancing, masks and disinfection are mandatory.
It is laughable to think that people believe that by putting on the mask and disinfecting their hands they are safe even if you have hundreds of people around you. Maybe people have not understood that this virus is transmitted by contact and that if a person has it and touches a surface, it immediately stays there?
And, as if that were not enough, in Cali, the capital of the Valle del Cauca department, five people who were waiting for the results of their tests went shopping that day and within a few days their results came back positive. Obviously there is no way of knowing how many people they will have infected because they had permission to go shopping.
“Truthfully, there was a lot of chaos during that first VAT DAY. It was so crowded, there were no controls.”- Andrés Abadía –
Keep in mind that in times of social distancing, the chaotic crowds in stores and malls in various cities marked this day, the government received criticism after social media was flooded by photos and videos showing what happened.
Actually, the situation is outrageous, to say the least! Why have they forced people to be in compulsory isolation, without being able to leave home, without being able to work? Why have they created the id and gender controls (pico y genero) if they open shops irresponsibly without being able to guarantee the safety of buyers and sellers? What is the point?
In the whole country 85 agglomerations were registered, according to the balance of the Ministry of Commerce.
The President, Mr. Duque, admitted that there are things that went wrong and that you must learn from them for the future!
Sorry for the audacity (I am no politician or ever will be and I am aware that being president must be an enormous task) but the lesson is not for the next day, Mr. Duque … the lesson is that you don’t play with peoples health and life. You have said it repeatedly, so what happened? We know that the country must be reactivated, we know that we need to open our businesses, but at the cost of our health?
They couldn’t think of doing this online? Of course, not all Colombians in the country have internet access, but then it could have been a good idea to organize it for a whole week so that people who have internet access and those who do not could not go shopping without having to stuff themselves like sardines.
On Friday, July 3rd, the second of the three days without VAT took place. The third day was canceled.
Let’s bear in mind that Colombia has been a country that has made extrem efforts, and many of them to try to keep the Covid-19 from spreading more and going to buy things does not mean we have to stop caring ourselves.
Chaos in the gastronomic sector and bars
So, one of the many problems is that for obvious reasons social distancing measures have forced the gastronomic and entertainment sector to remain closed. The fear of possible transmission remains latent. It is considered that restaurants are some of the establishments where there may be a greater propensity to spread the virus.
According to article five, numeral 3 that appears in decree 749, “Gastronomic establishments will remain closed and will only be able to offer their products through electronic commerce, home delivery or as take-away delivery”.
One of the faces of this situation is Karen Cardona, manager of the D’Toluca and La Costillería restaurants in Cali.
L.Viera: How long have you had the restaurants?
K. Cardona: We have been in the market for 15 years and this is a family business.
L.Viera: Congratulations, that is quite an achievement. Karen, since this time of preventive isolation began in the country, what has changed, since it began until now?
K. Cardona: In January, February we had 4 branches now we only have 2. They have shut us down, we cannot attend to customers. At first we could not do deliveries, then we were given the opportunity to do so but for many restaurants that is not their strong suit. We have a live music show, mariachis and all the Mexican decoration. We had deliveries but it was not the fort. Just as we do, in many restaurants, our strength is entertainment and what people pay, let’s say, is an added value for being ebtretained..
L.Viera: is it possible to live from delivery services?
K. Cardona: Deliveries are barely 10 percent of what we generally sell and that does not generate the good experience that they can live in any of the branches.
The government had given the go-ahead for the development of the pilot plan in different gastronomic areas of the city, among which would be the neighborhoods of El Peñón, San Antonio, Granada, Ciudad Jardín and the businesses in the Calle 9 sector with Carrera 66.
In the gastronomic pilot 25 Cali restaurants from the Parque del Perro were going to participate. People who hadn’t had an income for months, invested in order to prepare everything to be able to offer an excellent experience and service, but it was postponed by determination of the local authorities.
A few hours before the event started it was canceled. The reason was that the contagion rates in the city had increased.
Slowly and with the passing of days we see how there is a hypocrisy on the subject of protocols against the health crisis. The reason why we dare to say that it is a bit is as follows: the protocols are clear in the fact that distance must be kept and elements and supplies that are frequently used and surfaces, among others, must be disinfected.
And, I want to know who controlled that cleaning of surfaces, the manipulation of objects during the day without VAT. The answer is that nobody did it, because when the doors of the stores opened, the horde of people burst in. Why are there sweet sixteen parties or weddings taking place? Who controls it at that time?
The protocol of biosecurity standards to mitigate, control and carry out the adequate management of the covid-19 pandemic was issued by the Ministry of Health and Social Protection of Colombia through Resolution 666. Each sector must adapt it to its needs.
It is clear that the biosafety protocol is aimed at minimizing the factors that can generate the transmission of the disease. These standards must be implemented by employers and workers in the private and public sectors. It is divided into three main parts.
They must train their workers and related contractors through a service or work contract.
They must adopt administrative control measures to reduce exposure, such as making shifts and working hours more flexible, as well as promoting remote work or work at home.
Suspicious and confirmed cases of covid-19 must be reported to EPS and the corresponding ARL.
Incorporate into official communication channels and service points to provide information on the disease.
Support the ARL in the area of identification, risk assessment and in conjunction with the EPS in relation to health promotion and disease prevention activities.
Provide employees with the personal protection elements that must be used to carry out the work activities that they carry out for the employer.
Promote the use of the CoronApp application to record the health status of workers in it.
The responsibility of the workers:
Comply with the biosafety protocols adopted and adapted by the employer or contractor during the time they remain on the premises of their company or workplace and in the exercise of the tasks that it designates.
Report to the employer or contractor any case of infection that may occur in your workplace or your family. This in order for the corresponding measures to be taken.
Adopt your health care measures and report changes in your health status, especially related to symptoms of respiratory disease, to the employer or contractor and report on CoronApp.
The biosafety protocol
Proper use of face masks, hand washing and physical distancing. Cleaning and disinfection processes must be strengthened for commonly used elements and supplies, surfaces, frequently used equipment, waste management as a result of the activity or sector, proper use of Personal Protection Elements-EPP, and optimization of site ventilation. and compliance with hygienic sanitary conditions.
The use of gloves is recommended if you are going to carry out cleaning activities or if you are going to handle elements such as waste. For other activities, the guidelines established by Minsalud determine hand washing with water, soap and disposable towels.
“What security do I have when I go to a shopping center or a chain store? Do they have the security protocols to do it? What they do is take the temperature and the data at the entrance, see that you have a peak and ID and nothing else. But who controls in the corridors that the products are not touched, the distance, nobody! ”
L.Viera: So, could you open the doors and apply the control measures?
K. Cardona: Let’s say yes. We can do it because security protocols have always been applied. Obviously, now they must be much stricter and more rigorous but we are prepared to do it. For us the changes are minimal, we have to use less tables in order to guarantee the distance. More than anyone else, we, can control that because people are going to sit down, there is not going to be people walking around the hallways of a shopping center. We are going to have people sitting down to eat, to give them a customer service at the table.
L.Viera: How many people depend on you in restaurants … employees, formal and informal jobs?
“A girl, who works with us, tried to kill herself, she is in intensive care at the moment.”
K. Cardona: We in February had 42 formal and occasional employees, who come in weekends, about 30 more. Including the musicians, they were between 80 – 90 people who depend economically on us. At this time we have hired 5 people, all the rest of the staff was laid off or with a suspended contract.
The options for the sector have been few. Many have had to make door-to-door sales and change their business model are some of the strategies of small restaurants to survive day by day.
Restaurant owners have come together to help each other. Many things have been accomplished such as giving markets to workers since many of them are in really delicate situations.
SOS red cloth campaign
Right now hundreds of windows in Colombia are screaming for help. Rags, scraps of cloth, children’s costumes, or red shirts hang like flags. That is the SOS red cloth campaign.
When everything about the pandemic began in Colombia, many people had very serious problems. The idea was that people who had some need put a red cloth on the window since they could not leave their houses and in this way the others would know that they needed help.
Several months have passed since the government introduced the mandatory isolation and therefore several restaurants and businesses in Cali hung red flags with the message of S.O.S. to ask the National Government to authorize the reopening, since they are in a serious financial crisis.
Karen tells me in a broken voice, “We need help, we need to reopen. Many people depend on these jobs and are in a very difficult situation. This is the call of the red cloth for the government to help us.”
It is a campaign to help us. We are committed to being responsible, because we have to be. This is what doctors say and everything. It is a subject for a long time. We have an internal and external responsibility. Internal with our employees and external with our clients.
L.Viera: What will happen if the situation does not change?
K.Cardona: You can’t imagine how many informal jobs there are right now because that’s what is in demand. Imagine yourself at home 5 months without receiving a single dime. People are going to do whatever it takes to get money and help their family. People are desperate.
L.Viera: Taking this into account … what do you think about a day like the day without VAT? What failure?
K. Cardona: Everything! because I as a manager tell you I wouldn’t allow that amount of people in the given circumstances. I blamed him the day without VAT. It was the governments fault because they allowed it. If the idea of the quarantine period is to mitigate and stop the virus this should not have happened.
On the streets
We wanted to speak with other people in the country to see how the day without VAT was lived and their opinions about it. Finally, it is they who can really give us a more global idea about what is happening in our country.
For the vast majority of people, VAT Free Day was not a great initiative. Although the idea behind it may be beneficial, at this juncture it is not. And, instead of leaving a good feeling, it had the opposite effect among many people.
Carolina Correa, who lives in Bogotá, told us that she considers that the VAT Free Day was a good idea. But, that the problem was in the behavior of the people since they did not manage to avoid the crowds.
On the other hand, Mónica Ardila commented that for her the day without VAT was a total nonsense. She believes that exposing your health and the health of your family for a monetary reduction, that in reality was not that much, is idiotic.
After seeing all this chaos I remembered Murphy’s famous law formulated in 1949. It stated that if something is going to go wrong, it will. And, well this was what happened during the day without VAT.
What went wrong Everything imaginable. Let’s start with the fact that over 80 crowds developed at a time when infection seems to be increasing exponentially. Internet platforms collapsed, there was nowhere to park, people over 70 years old and people waiting for confirmation of their infection results went shopping and most likely this increased contagion.
L.Viera: What went wrong?
A. Abadía: The truth in some warehouses did not do biosafety protocols….
M.Ardila: Many things failed in the day without VAT, especially for large platforms. The authorities tried to do their best but I think the horde of people made it impossible.
L.Viera: Do you think it is fair that they open a warehouse and cannot guarantee the distance, or protocols and restaurants that do meet all requirements keep them closed?
C. Correa: Depends on the stores and restaurants.
M.Ardila: No, it does not seem fair to me that they open stores and restaurants can’t do the same. They can redice the number of tables, separate them. I don’t agree that churches are open or large stores. Restaurants need to open and the fact that they are not granted permission is complicated. They are benefiting those who are not.
In Colombia we all sin by omission. Nobody anticipated what could happen at the infection level, nobody anticipated the crowd in the hypermarkets, nobody anticipated what could happen and what ended up happening.
Many went out with or without money to spend. But what is clear is that they went out because they were tired and desperate of being locked up. It is also clear that all were victims of promotions and discounts that made us forget about the harsh reality of the virus.
Shops were the only winners. They used all their weapons to do so: promotions, VAT discounts, balance promotions, all to make up for three devastating months. And, they all fell into their traps.
One of the truths that was evident was that, we, Colombians hate the taxes. We hated it so much that it didn’t matter that we risked our health and that of our families in order not to pay the tax on a tablet, blender or television, among many other things.
Against the ropes
The covid-19 pandemic has restaurants and bars across the country against the ropes. They have been closed for months. People slowly fall into despair, even if they are receiving governmental aid, it is not enough.
A reactivation strategy such as the day without VAT, a very poorly planned strategy, sends mixed messages, encourages disobedience and undermines the discourse of both epidemiologists and the government itself.
In the desire to reactivate the country’s economy, I ask myself, why do they open shops irresponsibly and allow crowds and not allow restaurants that comply with all sanitary protocols to open? What is the difference? If crowds are allowed and the lack of distance does not bother them while people buy a television that they will not be able to enjoy if they are dying from the virus, why is it that an establishment with all protocols is not allowed to serve people?
If they are able to risk everything by going out to spend money on material things, thus giving the opportunity to increase contagions and for merchants to have an income but they are not able to sit in a restaurant and eat quietly. To open chain department stores, safety and prevention speeches were not the focus. But to open a restaurant they impose it to the last point.
They have not understood that the gastronomic sector is one of the few that can control and report distancing measures. In Europe, the restaurants that are open have removed tables to guarantee distance, the waiters always wear masks, customers must disinfect their hands at the entrance of the premises and wear masks until they reach their table.
What is happening in Colombia, the fact that some are able to start their activities once again without keeping in mind all safety measures, is a huge act of hypocrisy. it is so evident and painful.
One of the truths that 2020 has presented to us is that we need to be responsible in our actions so as not to be infected and possibly overcome SARS Covid 19.In Colombia, we did not have enough head to see the magnitude of the problem and the excitement of the day without VAT it became a collective delusion. The hypocrisy of the people and the government is evident.