The Andean country, which looks set to hit 1.5 million confirmed cases of the respiratory disease before Christmas, held more than five months of lockdown earlier this year. The quarantine measures shuttered businesses and sent unemployment soaring.
The government has allowed most businesses to reopen with safety requirements like masks, temperature-taking and hand sanitizing.
But official warnings have grown as crowds of Christmas shoppers converge in areas like Bogota’s San Victorino neighborhood, where vendors spread their wares on sidewalks or sellers occupy rows of small stalls.
“December is worrying and so is New Year, more than anything because of crowds,” said doctor and epidemiologist Luis Jorge Hernandez, an advisor to Bogota’s mayor’s office. “The biggest risk is family gatherings – the best gift is not to physically get together.”
Health Minister Fernando Ruiz has asked Colombians to celebrate the holidays only with their household.
“Only those who are living in the same house, who share a similar risk,” Ruiz said this week. “We can’t trust that someone who comes from outside – even if they are our family – doesn’t bring risk.”
Shoppers in San Victorino, however, were sanguine.
“Really it doesn’t worry me,” said Victor Garcia through his face mask, as he stood among other shoppers in a narrow passage way framed by racks of clothing. “We’ve been using safety measures since we left the house.”
Mary Baron came to buy in bulk for her business.
“If we take the precautions asked of us I think we can have a normal December. If we don’t take care of ourselves with the face masks or the distancing and hand-washing, then different things might happen.”