Although the number of Covid-19 infections has risen sharply in recent weeks, the government says it has no plans to return to the lockdowns and other restrictions imposed earlier in the pandemic. “The measures used in the early stages of the pandemic were devastating for the country, particularly the poorest citizens,” says Government Minister Francisco Jiménez. “Some of the restrictions were necessary but we have since learned that the economic damages were extensive.”
Some medical professionals, however, are urging the government to consider reapplying some restrictions and mandates, due to the surge of new Covid infections. The Ministry of Health announced that 5,467 infections were reported last week compared with 705 in the second week of March.
Medical researcher Ruth Jimbo of the Pontifical Catholic University in Quito, blames much of the surge on a relaxation of health standards. “We reduced the biosafety measures prematurely, especially masking rules, and this has increased the number of cases,” she says. “The introduction of the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are also a factor in the increase and should be cause for alarm. In any health emergency, decisions must be resilient and adjust to current scenarios and, at a minimum, we should now return to the mask mandate, especially in closed places.”
Manuel Baldeón, medical professor at the International University of Ecuador in Guayaquil argues that a balance must be determined between health precautions and the need for a return to social normality. “It is true that we must learn to live with Covid, since it is not going away any time soon, but it also important that some protections be maintained or reintroduced to protect the public.”
Baldeón adds that there is a limit to what the government can do. “Most of the response to the virus, both good and bad, comes from the actions of individuals. We should encourage positive health behaviors but in the end it’s up to the people to comply.”
Private practice Cuenca physician Milton Villavicencio says, however, that the behavior of the citizens is a reflection of the current danger of Covid-19. “Two years ago, people were seeing their friends and family members get sick and some of them die, and that is no longer the case,” he says. “They know that the virus is still out there but they know it is now much less severe. Many of us have suffered from a case of Omicron, and know that it is very unpleasant. On the other hand, we understand that it is like a bad cold and is not the killer it was before.”
Villavicencio, a one-time infectious disease researcher, recommends that instead of counting positive Covid test results, the Health Ministry should focus on hospitalizations and deaths. “It is true that the number of infections is alarming but it does not tell the true story. The news should be that there has been no increase in the number of patients in our hospital intensive care units and the mortality rate from Covid has actually declined.”
He adds that those with vulnerable health conditions and the extremely elderly should still be protected. “I certainly do not suggest we lower our guard for those at high risk. These people should be taken care of. They should have been our focus from the beginning.”