My Coronavirus Lockdown Experience in Medellín

Less than 3 months ago governments began shutting down entire countries to contain the coronavirus.

I was already in Colombia and most of the foreigners who were here grew worried about the situation. 

Until then life was all “sunshine and rainbows” but attitudes had shifted.  

They spoke of possible chaos.

I just sat there and listened.

When it was my turn to speak, I told them that staying in Colombia was the best move for me. That was it.  

Colombia’s positive traits keep me returning every year, but ultimately, I felt that I needed to gain awareness of the country’s flaws and accept them before establishing myself.  

Every country has strengths and weaknesses. Some are known for maintaining a high standard of living, and others struggle to deliver clean water to their citizens.

But this situation is unique…

For once in my lifetime the entire world faces a common issue in the coronavirus.  

The virus doesn’t recognize skin color, political ideology, or net worth.  It attacks everyone. We either defeat it or die.

Adversity tends to expose a person’s true character and what better opportunity than this moment to see what people are made of.

I kept tabs on the actions of various groups such as politicians, media, bankers, citizens, and my network.

Most importantly, I focused on what I needed to do to protect myself and improve the lives of those around me.

I won’t discuss any of those specific groups mentioned earlier, however, I wanted to provide context regarding the intent of my assessment.

Here are my observations about how Medellín handled the situation

The Positive

  • Education campaigns aggressively informed the public about preventing Covid-19 infections
  • Army deployment at the beginning of the lockdown signaled a commitment to the containment strategy
  • Local newspaper tightened reporting and:
    • Informed the public about the virus
    • Highlighted the struggles of citizens
    • Scrutinized government contract discrepancies
    • Summarized operations against criminal groups
    • Published few, if any political opinion articles
    • Minimized celebrity gossip
    • Didn’t report on Twitter and Instagram posts  
  • The government ensured the availability of essential services.
  • 3 respirators designed in Antioquia received approval to begin production. These models cost less than imported versions and gives Colombia the option to scale faster in response to demand

Whenever a decision caused an issue they fixed it quickly.

I struggled to identify areas of improvement after learning some of the constraints they dealt with.

Covid-19 exposed multiple constraints:

  • The coronavirus threatened to turn hospitals into death boxes if protocols and equipment weren’t adapted to protect patients and medical staff.
  • The informal economy is a primary income source for many people.  If they don’t work, they feel the pressure immediately.
  • The government’s ability to raise capital during the pandemic appeared limited
  • Most essential services are heavily subsidized, and fees are scaled according to the ability to pay. Utilities, public transportation, and education are a few examples
  • Limited internet access in the poorest areas makes rapid coordination difficult
  • Lack of banking accounts slowed the distribution of monetary aid to those who needed it most
  • Online education and remote work aren’t practical options for households that don’t have access to computers or broadband internet.

Considering these constraints, after 4 weeks of lockdown I no longer worried about accessing essential services or feeling safe.  This was probably the key to maximizing lockdown compliance.

The locals have remained civil in the face of uncertainty which is a testament to their resiliency. 

Good News: Normal is on the Horizon!

On June 1st, most businesses received approval to operate and it was timely because I could sense everyone’s eagerness to direct their attention towards something productive.

This morning I walked past business owners arriving at work early, brooms and mops in hand, preparing to serve customers.

Further along in my stroll, I saw approximately 15 insurance agency employees modifying office workstations.

And for my friends who own restaurants, please open today so I can take a break from cooking.

I’m SERIOUS!

“Normal” may not return soon but staying in Medellín was worth it because it feels more like home now.

Freedom is a Choice,

Lee Miles

13 Comments

  1. El Oso June 9, 2020 at 10:47

    Excellent and most through perspective I’ve seen from a traveler to date.

    Reply
    1. Lee Miles June 10, 2020 at 08:35

      Thanks bro! I hope you’re practicing Spanish in preparation for when international travel returns.

      Reply
  2. Freddy Arley Zapata Fernandez June 9, 2020 at 12:54

    Es un excelente artículo, visto desde la percepción de alguien que no conoce muy bien la ciudad de Medellín, felicitaciones lee por la visión que tienes de Ciudad

    Reply
    1. Lee Miles June 10, 2020 at 08:32

      ¡Gracias amigo! Sigo aprendiendo acerca de la vida Colombiana. Me ayudas mucho.

      Reply
  3. Evelyn Reuscher June 9, 2020 at 16:05

    Great article 👍🏽

    Wishing “normality” arrives rather soon than later.

    Great to know this made you stronger and closer to your new home!

    Reply
    1. Lee Miles June 10, 2020 at 08:28

      Thanks Evelyn! I view things differently than before but it’s better this way.

      Reply
  4. Andrés Montoya June 9, 2020 at 16:14

    Muy interesante!

    Reply
  5. Femi Oohh June 10, 2020 at 07:37

    A very thought out and extremely informative piece, Lee. Sounds like Colombia responded to the crisis quite well.

    Reply
    1. Lee Miles June 10, 2020 at 08:22

      Hey Femi, I’m glad that you found it informative.

      Reply
  6. Vance June 11, 2020 at 12:11

    Solid article, man. Gave me insight as to the situation down there. Tough situation, but seems it was handled adequately (relatively speaking, for the region at least!)

    Reply
    1. Lee Miles June 11, 2020 at 19:02

      Thanks man! Definitely a tough situation and the handling has been a pleasant surprise

      Reply
  7. Oso July 26, 2020 at 14:50

    I’ve been curious about the travelers perspective of the covid experience. Thanks for the thoughtful, concise clarity.

    Reply

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