Colombia has reopened to tourism following the longest COVID-19 lockdown but in a calculated and successful way.
Colombia Had the Longest Lockdown
Following a single confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 6th, Colombia issued the start to what would become the most extensive lockdown in the world. All ports of entry were shut, not only to outsiders but also to Colombians abroad wishing to return.
President Ivan Duque has extended the Colombian government’s shutdown more than a dozen times to avoid and contain the coronavirus pandemic inside its own borders.
Even travel within the country was limited as the South American nation would allow just a single designated person from a household to leave for essential items.
Despite the country’s drastic efforts, Colombia long held the seventh-highest total case counts though fortunately for Colombians, that’s now slipped to tenth.
Reopening Is Complex
Due to the significant contraction in the economy, reform was necessary. However, as the South American nation attempts to reignite its economy while protecting its citizens, the government carefully balances safety with economic necessity.
Reopening is complex not just in the management of the virus and the protection of both visitors and Colombians, but also in the perception of citizenry and outsiders.
I wrote last week about a travel agency for which I am a partner and how we aim to differentiate ourselves. One of those methods of differentiation is deep investigation. Upon learning that Colombia had reopened, two of our staff members visited to evaluate the measures and implementation firsthand as well as interview those within the travel sector. They visited Bogota, Colombia last week and reported a variety of safety measures.
From the moment guests enter the aircraft, masks must be worn unless eating or drinking as is standard for the US as well. Prior requirements indicated a negative COVID-19 test result within 96 hours of arrival as a precondition to entrance. That has gone away but the health ministry has imposed additional restrictions.
Among them, masks are worn nearly everywhere, inside and out. The country determined it safe to resume table service starting in November at restaurants. Unique to Colombia (as was not found in Croatia nor the US) is a walk-on shoe sanitizing pad whereby the soles of shoes are cleansed and then dried on a separate map.
In nearly every restaurant, store, and hotel was a temperature check collected on either the wrist or (again, uniquely) at the neck. Travelers to many Asian countries (including Hong Kong) have passed through temperature checks either wittingly or unwittingly for nearly two decades to test and isolate the ill. I underwent a similar temperature check to enter an Apple store, so this didn’t seem alarming.
Outlets asked guests to wash their hands either in a basin or to use a provided hand sanitizer which cleverly utilized foot pedals to operate hand-pumped sanitizer upon entry. Menus were nearly ubiquitously available via QR codes. Entries were universally touchless and hotel keys were available without protest though digital keys were encouraged.
Airport vehicles (for hotel transfers) installed plexiglass barriers. Masks were worn by the driver and passengers with hand sanitizer available in the cupholder. As with everywhere in Colombia, the expected protocol was to sanitize upon entry and maintain a sterile environment throughout the journey.
Document (passport/identification) numbers were collected at each venue.
Since March, long lines formed to return to the country. Now that it’s possible, it seems that some have re-entered the country.
While the government has enforced rules that apply to airports, bus terminals, restaurants, and gyms, one of the most encouraging signs is that Colombians feel it’s incumbent on themselves to make the changes necessary to safely reopen. Many places in the country are following best practices rather than mandates.
Our visitors were welcomed back with open arms by both locals, tour operators, and travel providers.
Colombia held some of the strictest requirements with regard to COVID-19. Reopening the country is a significant challenge but a combination of willing and active citizens, as well as clear guidelines, have allowed the country to return to some semblance of normalcy. Not all of the measures in place make sense to me (sanitizing one’s shoes) but are also not particularly objectionable either.
What do you think? Does Colombia’s reopening seem careful but welcoming to you? Is Colombia demonstrating how a country can be safely reopened?