By Michael Watts

As a Brit living (for several years) in Colombia it’s been strange reading about coronavirus via the BBC and other British news outlets. I guess that, like many migrants, I find myself split between my country of origin and where I live. I’m in a strange limbo of knowing more about what’s going on in the UK but physically being here in Colombia. It’s not easy being so far from family and friends. It’s unsettling getting glimpses of what might happen here soon from the current situation back home.  

PICTURE: David Ospina

Like many, we’ve watched the virus spreading across the world, edging closer and closer to us in Colombia. As of today, 20th March, there are 145 confirmed cases here, the majority in Bogota where I live with my family. We’re all asking ourselves, what will happen here?

Will the health system be able to cope with a sudden increase in cases? Colombia runs a mixed private-public system, based on the health insurance system used in the United States. The public health system is severely underfunded and, if left to assume responsibility for the virus, will surely collapse. You may be okay if you’re rich, but will be damned if you’re poor.

PICTURE: David Ospina

Most lower income families in Colombia, especially in cities like Bogota, live day-to-day, working informally with no state support to help them if they are suddenly prohibited from leaving their houses.  How will they earn money to buy their food? What about the countless Venezuelan refugees who don’t even have houses? What will happen to our fragile social order after a few days of curfew?

The indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in the north of Colombia have released a statement saying that it is important not to call the virus by its name, that by naming it you give it power. The Misak people of Cauca in the south value their elders and the knowledge they hold above all else. How must they be feeling about the high mortality rate among the elderly?

PICTURE: David Ospina

For all the unknowns and uncertainties, official bodies here do seem to be taking the situation seriously. All schools were closed from Monday. Land and sea borders have been closed for a few days, with air borders to be closed on Sunday. A practice four-day lockdown started in Bogota today.  

I don’t think anyone has much of an idea of how everything will play out in the next few months, but I personally draw comfort from the fact that all of us across the world are going through the same thing, experiencing the same emotions and fears.  Hopefully, the tough but shared experiences to come can bring us together in some way, help us realise that we’re all in it together, that we only have one world, that life is fragile, and that we should be taking care of one another, not taking advantage.  


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