What will air travel look like when it resumes next week?
“It will be radically different than it did before the coronavirus,” says Marco Subía, president of the Ecuador Airline Association. “At the beginning, service will be very limited and people who need to fly, either within the country or internationally, may find it hard to find flights when they need them but this will slowly improve. The airlines are hoping to be back to 50 percent capacity by the end of the year, compared to January and February, but this depends on several factors that are yet to be determined.”
Avianca, Latam and AeroRegional say they will resume flights on Monday. Latam will serve Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca while Avianca will fly to Quito, Guayaquil, Coca and Manta. Cuenca-based AeroRegional plans service between Quito and Loja but has not released details. Both Avianca and Latam have filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy claims in the United States but say it will not affect national service in Ecuador.
“International schedules and destinations are still undetermined and depend on when countries reopen their borders,” Subía says. “Another obstacle is the wide variety of Covid-19 health requirements in different countries. This will be very hard for airlines to manage since these will change from day to day, from country to country.” He says that large airlines, such as American, KLM and United, have confirmed they will fly a limited schedule in and out of Guayaquil and Quito beginning next week.
He said Ecuador’s requirement that incoming international passengers show negative PCR test results taken within 72 hours of a flight will discourage some travelers. Travelers who are unable to take a test prior to flying will be quarantined for seven to 14 days in a hotel in Quito or Guayaquil. “The biosecurity requirements will be with us for a while and we will have to live with them,” Subía says.
Fear of contracting the virus will also keep air travel down, tourism experts say. “The comfort level of potential travelers will be a major factor in the return of air travel volume,” says Diego Padula, director of the Ecuador Association of Travel Agencies. “Many Ecuadorians know people who have been sick with Covid, or who have died from it, and this will discourage air travel for a period of time.”
Padula says his members are mounting a campaign to encourage Ecuadorians to vacation in the country.
Ecuador Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos reports that nearly 90 percent of the people who have tested positive for Covid-19 have recovered or are in the process of recovering. “Of the 38,471 confirmed cases as of today [Thursday], 34,522 citizens have overcome the disease,” he said. “It is easy to become alarmed by the total number of infections but it is more important to know the the vast majority of victims have recovered.”
Zevallos said he is confident that Ecuador is past the worst of the Covid-19 outbreak. “We are on the road to a normality and I urge all citizens to exercise responsibility and discipline to continue this progression.”
City bus negotiations continue
Cuenca’s municipal bus system remains sidelined as city officials and representatives of bus owners continue discussions. Although national Covid-19 restrictions allow buses to operate, disagreements over subsidies and route changes remain to be resolved. In addition to asking for funding to operate at the reduced capacity mandated by health restrictions, bus owners say the city owes them payment for half fares for students, the disabled and the elderly. The city says the owners have not justified their demand.
Without an agreement, thousands of Cuencanos have been forced to find alternative ways to get get around town. Under normal circumstances, urban buses transport 363,892 people a day from Monday to Friday, and 199,801 on Saturday and Sunday.
Guayas returns to normal while Covid cases spike in other coastal provinces
After being an international epicenter of the coronavirus, the infection rate in Guayaquil and Guayas Province is now among the lowest in the country. At one time registering 70 percent of the country’s cases, the percentage has dropped to 47 percent while daily deaths have dropped from a high of 650 to about 70, which is the pre-virus average.
Meanwhile, Covid cases are rising sharply in Manabi, Santa Elena, El Oro and Esmeraldas provinces.
Expat found dead at home
Police have recovered the body of 72-year-old James Ron Wolf, who they describe as as a legal resident from North American. The body was found in an advanced state of decomposition at his home in Guabopamba and was taken to the municipal morgue for an autopsy.
10,000 foreigners have left Ecuador, while 12,500 have returned
Ecuador’s foreign ministry reports that about 10,000 foreign nationals have flown out of Ecuador since March 14, when the national borders were closed. Most of those on the repatriation flights were North Americans, the government said. The ministry said about 12,500 Ecuadorian citizens and residents have returned home on humanitarian flights while another 7,500 are waiting to return.