Following the announcement that the Covid-19 delta variant has entered Ecuador, the country’s two largest medical organizations are demanding that the government declare a new national health emergency. Among the measures the Guayas and Pichincha Medical Colleges recommend are restrictions on travel, including incoming international flights, strict curfews, weekend lockdowns and a ban on liquor sales.
On Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported that five of the 10 patients infected with the delta variant in El Oro and Guayas Provinces have died. The announcement came just three days after the ministry claimed there were no cases of delta in Ecuador.
In response to the news, the national Emergency Operations Committee said it considering a number of emergency options. “We understand the gravity of the situation and are in ongoing talks to develop a plan to protect the public,” said COE director Juan Zapata. Responding to the demands by the medical groups, he said he preferred targeted restrictions in El Oro and Guayas Provinces and not a declaration of a nationwide emergency.
Ecuador Health Minister Ximena Garzón apologized for Friday’s claim that the country was delta-free. “We regret the misinformation,” Garzón said Monday afternoon. “The mistake was the result of reporting errors in our zonal ministry offices. Obviously, the variant has been in the country for a period of time.”
The Pichincha College of Physicians called the mistake inexcusable. “We have test results showing that the delta and lambda variants have been in the country for at least 20 days and this information was ignored by the government,” said Víctor Álvarez, the college’s president. “I was appalled when the ministry said the variants were not here.”
Álvarez blamed the emergence of delta on poor control of the Peruvian border and lack of adequate restrictions on international flights. “There is also a lack of enforcement throughout the country of social distance and masking mandates,” he said. “Police must be instructed to begin fining violators who they are currently ignoring.”
Some doctors, however, are warning against an overreaction to the presence of the delta and lambda variant from Peru. “We should avoid a freak-out over the latest news,” said Jorge Bermeo, a tropical disease specialist in Guayaquil. “I don’t think the country can afford another lockdown or even additional controls on businesses and air travel. The reaction must be sensible and measured.”
Bermeo said that the vaccination campaign is advancing “impressively” throughout the country and that immunizations will provide protection against the variants. “Some areas, such as Cuenca, are approaching a 50 percent vaccination rate and other cities are not far behind.”
He cited the low impact of delta in other countries as proof that vaccines work. “In Great Britain, Israel and the U.S., there is a surge of delta cases but the deaths and hospitalizations are not increasing and this is because of the high rate of vaccinations.”
Bermeo added that among the five delta deaths reported in Ecuador, four of the victims were unvaccinated and one had received only one dose.