BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Airports, bus terminals, restaurants and gyms reopened in most of Colombia on Tuesday as the South American nation attempts to reignite its economy following months of restrictions for the coronavirus pandemic.
The step expanded previous moves that allowed shops, construction sites, shopping malls and factories to resume operations in June in most of the country’s cities.
Hospital occupancy rates and deaths from the new coronavirus have stabilized across much of Colombia over the past 10 days, prompting the national government to lift more of the emergency measures that had been in place for five months, including a ban on most people from traveling within the country.
Bogota’s El Dorado airport opened to passengers flying domestic routes for the first time since March, and long lines formed outside bus terminals around the country.
“I’m going to see my family. It’s been too long without them,” said Sara Rivas, a university student who arrived at Bogota’s bus terminal with a backpack and three large suitcases.
Rivas lost her part time job at an office supplies store two months ago, but had not been able to leave Colombia’s capital due to restrictions on domestic travel.
Officials said international flights are expected to resume later this month and land borders could open in October as the country enters a new phase of the pandemic, in which most businesses will be allowed to open but will have to enforce health security protocols.
“We are not returning to things how they were before (the pandemic),” President Ivan Duque said in a nationally televised program Monday night. “Nobody can let their guard down and all of us must protect each other.”
Under Tuesday’s reopening, municipal governments will be allowed to impose additional restrictions on businesses within their territories.
Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez announced that restaurants in the capital will be allowed to resume table service starting Thursday but can operate at only 25% capacity. She also said her administration will shut down portions of 100 streets around the city from Thursdays to Sundays so restaurants can serve more customers by placing tables outside.
“Our priority is to create jobs” Lopez said. “To do that we will have to take away space from cars.”
The unemployment rate in Colombia has doubled to 20% since the pandemic broke out, and the Central Bank says the economy shrunk 19% in the second quarter amid the lockdown.
Despite the stabilization in infections, the coronavirus is still spreading in Colombia and experts have warned that contagion could pick up as the country restarts its economy.
In the last week of August, Colombia reported more than 8,000 confirmed cases of the virus a day, down from a record 13,000 cases on Aug. 19. Daily deaths peaked at 400 on Aug. 22, with the daily number falling to around 300.
Colombia has the seventh highest total of confirmed cases in the world, at more than 610,000. Almost 20,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the South American country.