A letter from a UNU-MERIT GPAC doctoral student from self-imposed quarantine in Colombia!

Hello everybody,

I write this letter to you from my room in Medellín, Colombia, where I am isolating myself. I live and work here. Before writing the rest – let me tell you – my main message: Under the COVID-19 siege, as it has been shown in other times in the past, the value of individual responsibility is highly important. As governments struggle to contain the virus, the voluntary action of individuals to accept preventive measures (and sometimes to go beyond what governments propose) will make the difference between stopping the spread of this disease or not.

Now, let me tell you the rest of my story.

A few weeks ago, I decided to attend a conference about the topic of my PhD in Barcelona. While there, I tried to follow all the recommendations given to avoid catching the coronavirus. I came back to my country on a Saturday and, on the following Monday, I went to the University to work as usual.

Although neither the local nor the national government had taken measures regarding travelers coming back from Europe, my employers recommended me to stay at home and work from there. I did not have any symptoms, but I isolated myself immediately! At that moment, the situation was not as bad as it is now, but still I started working from home and trying to practice as much as possible “social distancing”.

I still do not have any symptoms. There were tensions between municipalities and the national government and quarantine remained optional until March 20, when the regional and local governments declared quarantine. I was staying at home anyway because it was the responsible thing to do. Now the national government declared a mandatory quarantine, starting on March 25 (until April 13).

Great challenges lie ahead and they need to be tackled in an organised way. Tests were taking too long, but now they are improving thanks to the help of universities that opened their labs to collaborate, among other supporters. That is good news. But we are worried about the inequality of the impact: how will poorer people survive financially in the coming weeks? How will the situation be managed in jails? In the night of March 21 there were riots in several prisons: they are overcrowded and the risk of infection is very high.


This is a moment for solidarity! Companies and governments (and individuals, of course) will be remembered either for how they helped, or for how they turned their backs to humanity. We all need to contribute as much as possible. If we do not cooperate voluntarily, this whole situation will worsen much more. It is our shared responsibility: we need to act. We all must do our part! And this attitude needs to outlast the coronavirus!

~Alejandro Álvarez-Vanegas~