April 24, 2020 / 9:19 PM / a month ago

'I lost control and started crying': Colombian doctor evicted as neighbors fear COVID-19

BOGOTA (Reuters) - A doctor in the Colombian city of Cali said this week that he was forced from his apartment just eight days after he moved in because other residents of the building feared he would bring the new coronavirus into their homes.

A sign that reads "Thank you health heroes" is seen in the window of the Abedules De Santafe residential complex, where a doctor who said he was threatened with death resides, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bogota, Colombia April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

It is the latest example of hostility to medical workers in Latin America, who have faced discrimination and even attacks amidst concerns they could be spreading the virus.

Cristhian Botache, 22, said he moved out of his family home at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in order to protect his older relatives, who are more at risk of falling seriously ill.

However, his new neighbors protested against his arrival and demanded the building’s owner evict him.

“The owner told me that people were really scared, that they said they would leave if I didn’t,” Botache told Reuters in a video interview. The owner had asked him to leave, he added.

The owner and neighbors could not immediately be reached for comment.

Colombia has reported more than 4,500 cases of COVID-19 and over 210 deaths. More than 300 medical workers have been infected, leading to the deaths of at least four, according to figures by Colombia’s National Health Institute.

Other cases of hostility to medical workers include an anesthetist in Bogota who told Reuters he had been prohibited from using communal areas where he lived, and reports by local media of graffiti on the wall of one doctor’s apartment that threatened to kill his family if he didn’t vacate the property.

For frontline medical staff battling the virus, such open aggression by their neighbors can be devastating.

“I lost control and started crying,” Botache said. “On the phone, my family members asked me to calm down... I didn’t hear what they were saying because I couldn’t even speak between sobs and tears.”

The doctor has since moved into another apartment.

“I felt enormously disappointed not just in my neighbors but in seeing how humanity behaves in the face of fear and the unknown, as well as the ignorance that characterizes many people,” he said.

Reporting by Herbert Villarraga, Camilo Cohecha and Andres Rojas; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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