Bogotá quarantine: The centre under lockdown

By bogotapost April 10, 2020

There’s always a mishmash of people in the centre of the city and that’s magnified with the quarantine that has now been extended to April 26. There are a lot of tourists trapped in the hostels as well as extreme poverty. How is the centre dealing with this heady brew under quarantine? 

OXXO Candelaria during quarantine in the centre.
The OXXO on Las Aguas where many meet. Photo: Phil Dyer

Contributor Phil Dyer lives in the centre, and tells us that the streets were getting dodgier and dodgier around Las Aguas post-lockdown, with much more aggressive panhandling than usual. He also says there’s been a far higher police presence since last week, with a couple of coppers close to any of the few stores that are open. Those who are out are walking with a purpose. There’s not much in the way of dawdling going on.

Almost everybody’s wearing face masks and people are trying to stay a couple of metres away from each other. In the local Carulla, everybody gets a couple of squirts of alcohol gel on their hands as they enter. Around here at least, people are taking social distancing seriously.

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Walking around, during the day at least, feels as safe in the centre as before quarantine. He’s asking the same questions as we heard from Teusaquillo. “There are so many people that I just don’t see around nowadays, and I worry about what they can be doing to make ends meet. It feels like the big chains like Carulla, Olímpica and Farmatodo are doing very well, but what about the arepa guy, the old lady who sold confectionery, the people selling tourist stuff in the market? What’s happened to all the people living on the street?

Brazilian resident Ester Javorski has an answer for that. It’s very quiet, she says, but there are still homeless people around the centre during the quarantine, especially the bazuko addicts who have limited access to state support and nowhere to go. “Around San Victorino and Décima is very quiet, just security guards, some homeless guys eating and domicilio workers bringing food to people,” she says.

The OXXO on Carrera 3 and Las Aguas has become a gathering point of sorts, she tells us, with some tourists going in to buy food and three or four long-time street residents in turn hanging around asking for help. “The long-term homeless guys around here are friendly, unlike in some other areas. They come past the house looking for food and I give them what I can. The tourists don’t give them food because they don’t know who they are.” 

As a foreign resident, she’s had few problems, though it sounds like there’s more control there than in the other zones we’ve looked at, like Chapinero and Usaquén. Ester was stopped in the parque de periodistas by police and migration officials, which is something we’ve not heard of elsewhere, although it was announced a long time ago. “They wanted to see my passport to see if I was in quarantine or not. I applied for Colombian nationality this month, so they just checked my cédula number and residency visa.” 

Photo: Melanie Alsop

Reader Ryan Eastwood lives a bit further south in the Candelaria, saying it’s not too bad, given that it’s not the most salubrious part of the centre anyway, quarantine or not. He agrees with Phil that it’s probably OK in the daytime. “I haven’t left the house much, went to Éxito on 7a with 11 today and it was a little sketchy. Not many people around at all so always a bit edgy (but not in a London, overpriced, but still not posh and a bit shite edgy) when it’s like that.”

Let’s go slightly further north in the centre to see how the quarantine is affecting the Macarena. Robin Davies, a regular contributor to our movie and English learning pages, says the streets are very quiet and empty around him, but two blocks north the Perseverancia is business as normal but with face masks.

Luckily, local markets are still open, as are small tiendas. “I’m going a bit stir-crazy, but at least the dog gets me out and about for a bit. Shopping for food has been easy so far,” he explains. “The marketplace remains well-stocked with limits on the number of people who can enter. Nevertheless, nobody is observing the social distancing recommendations and most people go with their other half to shop.”