New Colombia central bank board members may back rate cuts

Colombia central bank to cut rate to historic 2.75% low: Reuters poll. Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Paul Simao

BOGOTA, Feb 5, 2021(Reuters): The announcement this week that Viviana Taboada and Mauricio Villamizar will join Colombia’s central bank board generated not only confusion over the spelling of Taboada’s first name, but predictions that interest rate cuts may be on the horizon. The two policymakers, appointed by President Ivan Duque, were criticized by some in the market for their youth, Taboada’s personal connections and the possibility they may back cutting an already historically low interest rate to help boost the economy. Taboada - whose first name is spelt Viviana on official documents but was written as Bibiana by the bank and Duque’s office - is the daughter of Colombia’s ambassador to the United Nations. The bank did not respond to a request for comment on Taboada’s family connections.

The bank’s seven-member board has held the benchmark interest rate at 1.75% for four months, but two policymakers argued at both the December and January meetings for a quarter-percentage-point cut. The bank said this week that a second surge of coronavirus infections and restrictions imposed by large cities to stop the spread of the virus will slow the economic recovery. It lowered its growth forecast for 2021 to between 2% and 6%. Seventeen of 22 analysts polled by Reuters said the chances of a rate cut grew following the appointments of Taboada and Villamizar. The remaining four ruled out any effect.

“With the new alignment, the possibility of a reduction grows. I’m not saying it’s bad to really lower the rate, just that the bank can’t change it’s vision abruptly because of changes in its members,” said Felipe Campos, head economist at Alianza. The central bank does not say how policymakers vote but a majority of those surveyed agreed Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla and policymaker Arturo Galindo, appointed by Duque last year, were most likely to have backed a cut. “It’s natural for the market to speculate - perhaps a bit based on the conspiratorial idea that with the president appointing nearly all the board members he can drive monetary policy,” said Wilson Tovar, head of economic studies at Acciones y Valores. “I don’t think that will happen.”

With the two latest appointments, Duque has named a total of four board members. Galindo plans to step down this year. “New members tend to vote closely with the government until they make their own space on the board and take a more independent position,” said an economist and former central bank employee who asked not to be named. “We don’t know if the same will happen this time, but it can be expected. Add the (Galindo) change still to come, and the uncertainty increases.” Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Paul Simao

Colombia discovers local coronavirus mutation

Martha Ospina (Image: President's Office)

BOGOTA, Jan 8, 2021,Colombia Times: The director of the National Health Institute (INS) said Thursday that her office identified a strain of the coronavirus that so far has only been detected in Colombia. This “Colombian” strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 was first discovered in March last year but has yet to be proven either more infectious or more dangerous than the virus that originated in China, according to INS director Martha Ospina. The so-called “B.1532” variant “has been found in 20 sequences and is present in 7 departments,” said Ospina, an epidemiologist.

According to the INS director, “Patients with this virus do not have any clinical behavior different from other lineages,” contrary to the mutation from the United Kingdom, which is considerably more infectious than the original coronavirus. Ospina made the announcement amid a public debate about whether a recent surge in infections would be caused by the arrival of the British coronavirus mutation as claimed by Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez and denied by President Ivan Duque.

According to the INS director, testing has not confirmed the arrival of this more contagious strain, but added that her office assumed it has. The Health Ministry reported a record 17,576 infections on Thursday and 344 COVID-related deaths, which triggered the mayors of the capital Bogota and the country’s second largest city, Medellin, to order new lockdowns.

Newly registered COVID-19 infections

The new lockdowns that will last at least until Monday seek to prevent the collapse of municipal healthcare systems. Hospitals have seen a relatively fast saturation of intensive care units, particularly in Colombia’s largest cities. The surge is a major blow for the national government, which has been trying to reactivate the economy, but has been surprised by the relatively steep increase in infections. The surge comes approximately one month before the Health Ministry plans to roll out the first stage of an unprecedented operation that seeks to vaccinate all 50 million citizens against the coronavirus. B

Colombia Bans and Unbans Tourists from Countries with COVID-19 Restrictions

BOGOTA, Dec 17, 2020:Colombia’s foreign ministry on Monday revoked a ban on tourists from countries with coronavirus travel restrictions four days after it was issued. The Foreign Ministry on Thursday ordered embassies in Canada, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Chile and Argentina on Thursday to impose a ban on tourists. These countries continue to have incoming travel restrictions in place as part of their attempts to curb the spreading of the coronavirus.

In an internal memo shared with Colombia Reports, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s consular affairs, Fulvia Elvira Benavides, said the government had “suspended’ her ban without explanation. The initial ban implied the six countries applied restrictions that targeted Colombian travelers while in fact they are blanket bans with only a few exceptions. The banning and unbanning of tourists from these countries indicates how Colombia’s authorities have difficulties reopening the country to foreigners.

In Colombia, this process involves the Foreign Ministry, the Transport Ministry, the Health Ministry and civilian aviation agency Aerocivil, which coordinated the reestablishing of flights with aviation agencies from other countries. These aviation agencies will have to follow guidelines imposed by their governments. Since the government of President Ivan Duque lifted an air travel ban in September, Aerocivil has been able to reestablish limited flights to 13 countries.

This process is complicated by a new wave of coronavirus infections in Europe that spurred countries like the UK, France and Germany to impose new lockdown measures last month. The government said in July in hoped to have normalized international air travel by November. An expert panel of the World Travel Organization (WTO) said in May that the beginning of the normalization of flights wouldn’t begin until the beginning of next year.