Colombia on Thursday approved the reopening of most large events it had banned to contain the pandemic, even with intensive care units likely to be full until the end of June and more than 90,000 dead from COVID-19.
The South American country has gradually loosened many restrictions imposed in March last year to control the spread of coronavirus and rolled back others for certain locations on Thursday, though medical staff expect cases to remain high.
"Right now what we are proposing is a safe reopening with conditions that allow us to move gradually, as vaccination grows and as cities move past this third peak," Health Minister Fernando Ruiz said in a statement, adding a fourth peak is possible.
Cities with ICU occupancy rates above 85% will continue to see some restrictions, Ruiz said, but other areas will be allowed to bring back events like concerts and sports matches, with audiences capped at 25% capacity. All three of Colombia's biggest cities, the capital Bogota, Medellin and Cali have ICU occupancy rates above 96%.
A measure which required international travelers to present a negative PCR test to enter Colombia will be suspended and in-person classes for preschool through university will restart from July 15 after staff are vaccinated.
"It's basically the same to have people indoors or in the streets," said Alberto Sanchez, emergency medical coordinator at Nueva El Lago clinic, explaining infected people could still spread the disease to their household.
"Still, it's very worrying to know next week we're going to have a lot of people outside," Sanchez added. "The future's bleak."
The decision came the same day the health ministry reported a total of 90,353 COVID-19 deaths. Thursday also saw a new daily death record of 545 and a new high of 28,624 daily reported infections.
Colombia has so far administered more than 10.6 million vaccine doses, including 3.3 million second doses, as part of its plan to vaccinate more than 35 million people this year.
More than five weeks of anti-government protests have drawn large crowds that health authorities warn could spur infections.