Colombia's confirmed coronavirus cases rise above 50,000

Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Bogota

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Confirmed coronavirus cases in Colombia have risen to over 50,000, the country's Health Ministry said on Sunday, while neighboring Ecuador approached the same milestone.

Colombia has reported 50,939 cases of the coronavirus and 1,667 deaths. In Ecuador, cases have surpassed 46,700 and deaths stand at 3,896.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has overwhelmed Ecuador's health system, in some cases leaving authorities unable to collect the bodies of the dead and forcing the government to store corpses temporarily in refrigerated shipping containers.

Colombia's economy has been battered by the twin ills of a coronavirus quarantine put in place by President Ivan Duque and falling oil prices.

The country entered a national lockdown in late March, which is expected to be lifted on July 1.

But as certain sectors start to reopen and the quarantine begins to lift, medics are bracing for a spike in COVID-19 cases.

At a news conference on Sunday, Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez declared new restrictions in which residents can only leave home to go shopping or access financial services on days corresponding with the numbers on their ID cards.

Strict two-week quarantines will also be imposed in a number of Bogota's districts where infection rates are high.

The lockdown has led to thousands of businesses being shuttered, causing rising joblessness.

In April, unemployment in Colombia hit a historic 23.5% in urban areas, equivalent to more than 4 million people out of work, as the government promised further measures to help those most affected.

Colombia's economy will contract 5.5% in 2020, according to the Finance Ministry, because of the semi-paralysis caused by the quarantine.

The country will widen its fiscal deficit to 6.1% of gross domestic product - equivalent to more than 60 trillion pesos (12.72 billion pounds) - from an original 2.2% of GDP.


(Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Additional reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito; Editing by Diane Craft and Peter Cooney)