Colombia coronavirus quarantine extended through end of May

Nelson Bocanegra and Julia Symmes Cobb
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Colombia coronavirus quarantine extended through end of May

FILE PHOTO: Colombia's President Ivan Duque holds a news conference at the Tecnologico de Moneterrey in Mexico City

By Nelson Bocanegra and Julia Symmes Cobb

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's mandatory quarantine has been extended by a further week until May 31, President Ivan Duque said on Tuesday, the fourth extension to a lockdown intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The Andean country has nearly 17,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than 600 deaths. It began the quarantine in late March.

A health state of emergency will be extended until Aug. 31, Duque added.

"The obligatory preventative isolation, exactly as we are having it now, will be extended until May 31," Duque said during a television broadcast. "We will have an additional week, which is really important because in that week we will also be taking fundamental measures."

Sectors like retail and non-COVID-related medical care can begin normalizing gradually once quarantine ends, Duque said.

"Everyone who doesn't have to leave home should stay home," he said.

Domestic and international flights will not resume yet, nor will inter-municipal travel. Schools and universities will remain closed through July, and people 70 years and older must stay at home through June, Duque said.

Colombia's economy has been battered by the twin crises of COVID-19 and low global oil prices.

Duque's government has earmarked billions of dollars in business and welfare aid, but help has failed to reach many and businesses say reopening permissions are slow.

The government has loosened some restrictions but also hardened rules in some places. Construction, manufacturing and other sectors are restarting with safety protocols, while other businesses can operate via deliveries and municipalities without coronavirus can reopen.

But the government has toughened restrictions in Amazonas province and increased the military presence on the border with Brazil, which has the world's third-highest number of infections.

A dozen areas of Bogota with high infection rates have special restrictions.

Colombia's economy expanded 1.1% in the first quarter, likely its last positive figure before a recession. The finance ministry predicts a contraction of 5.5% this year.

(Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler)