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LatinNews Daily - 28 April 2021

COLOMBIA: Health minister warns of oxygen shortages

On 27 April Colombia’s health minister, Fernando Ruiz, said that the country is in a “critical situation” as a result of high demand for oxygen to treat coronavirus (Covid-19) patients.

Analysis:

Ruiz’s warning comes as Colombia enters its worst phase of the coronavirus epidemic. As of yesterday, the country had recorded over 2.8m infections and 72,235 deaths, with 17,578 new cases and 436 new deaths reported yesterday – marking seven consecutive days with over 400 daily deaths. The stark warnings also come as the government sought to persuade trade unions to call off mass protests against its controversial tax reform bill, arguing that these present an unacceptable risk of contagion as Colombia’s health services struggle to cope with mounting infections.

  • Ruiz said that high pressure on oxygen supplies had put the country in “a really critical situation”. Noting that Colombia produces 618 tonnes of oxygen per day, which he said is enough to service 21,600 intensive care unit (ICU) beds, Ruiz voiced concern that consumption remains high in non-ICU hospital settings, as well as for industrial use by manufacturing companies.
  • Ruiz said that the government had suspended import tariffs on oxygen as part of a plan to “increase supply and modulate demand”. On the government’s broader efforts to combat the pandemic, he also highlighted yesterday’s arrival of 1m doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine, which he said would be used to give people their second dose. Ruiz reiterated the government’s goal of administering 8m vaccine doses by 30 May.
  • Due to the worsening state of the epidemic, the administrative court for the department of Cundinamarca yesterday ordered the postponement of protests against the tax reform bill, which were scheduled to be held today (28 May) and on 1 May, “until biosecurity protocols are implemented or herd immunity is reached through vaccination”. President Iván Duque welcomed the verdict, saying that “whilst we respect this constitutional right [to protest], it is our duty to protect the sacred right to life”.

Looking Ahead: Adding to the government’s woes, the national strike council (CNP), consisting of members from Colombia’s largest trade unions, has said that today’s protests will go ahead in spite of the Cundinamarca court’s ruling.