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In a classic episode of The Simpsons — in its heyday — a temporarily housebound Bart suspects that do-gooder neighbour Ned Flanders is about to murder his wife. He frantically calls the police and gets through to a ridiculous pre-record of options. In haste, he chooses regicide, whereupon the pre-record goes on to ask him, ‘If you know the name of the king or queen being murdered, press one.’

Covid-19 tests in Colombia. Who is actually getting them?

So some people are getting tested, but who exactly? (Image from Facebook.)

Cartoon comedy at its best, but of course it would never happen like that in real life.

Honestly, it wouldn’t. In fact, in Colombia — or Bogotá at least — when it comes to tackling what we’ve been told is the biggest peril of our time, Covid-19 (all other life-threatening conditions are now irrelevant), that Simpsons episode is actually an improvement.

I know of a handful of cases where people either suspect, with good reason, that they have the infection or they’ve been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. When they prudently go looking for a test they have to wait hours for their call to be answered — there’s not even a pre-record of options to amuse oneself for a time.

Being on hold for ages might be OK for those with an unlimited-calls plan, but I certainly wouldn’t have the patience or money to burn to wait for more than 10 minutes in such a scenario.

You give me fever
If and when one does get through to the health provider — the curate’s egg that is the EPS system — there is an initial over-the-phone diagnosis. The guiding principle for being considered for a test appears to be the presence or not of a fever.

If you’re fever-free, be about your business. If not, ‘we’ll get back to you to arrange a test.’ For one acquaintance, two weeks have passed and still no word. Remember, we’re talking about what effectively is the only health concern in town these days and this is how it’s been dealt with.

‘One reason being mooted for what is at best a tardiness, at worst an unwillingness to test, is that the system has collapsed. The more likely explanation is that they simply don’t want to do it due to the cost.’

What about other potentially fatal conditions? Say your prayers and hope for the best it would seem. Sure you can beat cancer with no more than a positive attitude didn’t you know? Think away that heart attack.

It must be said that for those who have been in the company of an infected person, as one friend has, there is some willingness to test. Again, though, all in its own good time. And don’t be in a panic for the result, either.

One reason being mooted for what is at best a tardiness, at worst an unwillingness to test, is that the system has collapsed. The health providers are overwhelmed. They’d love to be able to test but they simply can’t.

There might be a modicum of truth to that. However, the more likely scenario — considering past form of avoiding procedures on your typical José Bloggs who’s not a big contributor to the system in the hope that he’ll either go away and/or die — is that the EPSs don’t want to shoulder the costs.

If you go privately and have, as one Bogotá hospital charges, 280,000 pesos to hand over, no problem. But if you’re on basic health insurance, to the back of the queue with you, a queue that is not being attended to at that.

Immune to good governance
So while city and state authorities are imposing lockdowns to their hearts’ content, without the intelligent practices of testing and contact tracing, they’re effectively playing whack-a-virus blindfolded. Do also remember, the initial point of the lockdowns was to buy time for the health services to prepare for the inevitable peak.

Well, we’re now entering that stage and what groundwork have they put in? Not an awful lot it seems, apart from scaremongering with case figures without any context.

What’s more, considering the irrational stigma surrounding Covid-19 amongst the masses, something the government and media have played a significant role in generating (see previous sentence), properly planned wholesale testing could help to counteract this. What we have instead are people frightened to even just look for tests and a health system doing its best to avoid administering them.

Now the jury is still out on lasting immunity to coronavirus. Yet, should it turn out that those who contract it do indeed build up defences, coupled with those who don’t suffer from it at all, Colombia might just stumble into “safer” territory in a few months, albeit faced with a raft of other long-term problems.

This will have been, for the most part, despite the measures and actions taken by those in charge, not because of them. As we’ve seen oft-times before here, authorities have (on occasions) talked a good game but when it comes to playing it, they’re found badly wanting.

We’ll get over coronavirus and the associated hysteria at some stage. The maladministration, that’s a far deeper issue, one that is arguably even deadlier than Covid-19. We’ve no immunity to it. Nor do we have a vaccine to combat it.

There is always that helpline to call. ‘We’ll get back to you tomorrow, sir.’ The thing is, tomorrow never comes.
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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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  1. The article doesn’t say much other than how much health services suck in this country (less than the US though).What I actually found most interesting was that “curate’s egg” expression, a very weird Britishism that I had to look up in the dictionary. Rather arcane for an article in a Spanish language newspaper, don’t you think?

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