BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia will extend a nationwide quarantine meant to stem the transmission of the coronavirus until April 27, President Ivan Duque said on Monday.
The lockdown was originally set to last 19 days, ending just before midnight on April 13. The Andean country announced its nationwide quarantine measures last month, before its infections passed 200.
“This isolation - which seeks the best of all of us - is exactly so we can keep saving lives, breaking the exponential growth of this pandemic,” Duque said during a live television broadcast.
More than 1,500 people have been confirmed infected with the coronavirus in Colombia and 46 have died. Infection numbers are lower than initially expected, Health Minister Fernando Ruiz said during the broadcast.
“There is a very big difference between what we thought we were going to have and the reality,” he said.
The country expected to have over 5,700 cases by Saturday, Ruiz said, but had reached just over 1,400 by that day.
Colombia closed its borders, shuttered schools and halted international passenger flights last month as travelers who had visited Europe and the United States brought the disease home with them.
Under the rules of the quarantine, one person per family is allowed out to shop for essential items or carry out financial transactions, masks are required in stores, banks and on public transport, and restaurants are only allowed to provide deliveries.
Until the end of May, schools are suspended and the elderly are required to stay in their homes.
Like many places around the world where informal labor is common, the quarantine has created deep hardship for some Colombians and for many Venezuelan migrants, though authorities have handed out food, opened shelters and increased welfare payments.
Some migrants have even begun a long journey home to Venezuela, which is in deep economic crisis, because in their home country they do not pay for rent or public services.
Colombia has set up multiple large-scale field hospitals meant to serve milder COVID-19 patients so intensive care wards can remain available for those who require ventilators.
Businesses affect by the lockdown will benefit from up to 12 trillion pesos ($2.9 billion) in credits, the finance ministry has said.
Reporting by Oliver Griffin and Nelson Bocanegra, additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb, Editing by Sandra Maler and Rosalba O'Brien