The Needs of the Many: Colombia Responds to COVID-19, 2020


When SARS-CoV-2 began spreading in Colombia in mid-March 2020, the national government feared the worst: a collapse of the health system. In response, President Iván Duque Márquez ordered the strictest nationwide lockdown in the Western Hemisphere. To implement the lockdown, the national government centralized authority, coordinated a trial run in the city of Bogotá, and relied on epidemiological data from an updated reporting system. The lockdown curbed the initial spread of the virus and bought the government time to increase intensive-care capacity. But the shutdown of the economy threatened to push millions in Colombia’s informal sector into poverty. The government rapidly expanded the social safety net, which nearly doubled the total number of welfare beneficiaries. It also took steps to provide assistance for the highly vulnerable population of 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants in the country. As the lockdown continued into its third month, the high socioeconomic costs of isolation and the government’s lack of consultation with municipalities, which were heterogeneous and were each affected differently by the virus, led to a breakdown in compliance. By the end of the year, new daily infections were at all-time highs, and though the government had kept millions out of poverty, social unrest loomed.

Gordon LaForge drafted this case study based on interviews conducted with the assistance of Miguelangel Verde in May, June, and July 2021. Case published September 2021.This case study was supported by the United Nations Development Programme Crisis Bureau as part of a series on center-of-government coordination of the pandemic response.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, or the UN Member States.

public trust
crisis response
disease control
Focus Area(s)
Pandemic Response
Critical Tasks
Core Challenge
Norm coordination
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Gordon LaForge