The national Emergency Operations Committee (COE) voted Thursday to allow travel to and from El Oro Province for those who are fully vaccinated. Previously, the state of emergency in the province prohibited all inter-provincial bus and car travel to stop the spread of the Covid-19 delta variant.
The COE decision is the first time the government has issued a vaccine mandate.
“Our intent is to prevent the exponential growth of delta, which is currently concentrated in Machala and surrounding communities [El Oro Province] but we feel it is safe to allow people who are vaccinated to travel in the area,” said Juan Zapata, COE president. “As a safety measure, we will continue to require that public buses travel at 50 percent capacity.”
On Wednesday, the government extended state of emergency restrictions in El Oro until the end of August. Of the country’s 88 confirmed delta cases, 61 are in El Oro Province.
Meanwhile on Thursday, the mayors of El Oro’s 10 municipalities complained that the restrictions are crippling the economy in their communities and urged President Guillermo Lasso to relax the rules. In particular, they are asking that the hours of the daily curfew be extended to allow businesses that rely on nighttime sales to remain open. Under the emergency declaration, the curfew is 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., Monday through Thursday and 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Thursday through Sunday.
“Our position is that these rules are far too extreme for the situation and are having a terrible impact on our businesses and productive sector,” says Machala Mayor Darío Macas. “Yes, we understand the seriousness of the health crisis but the province has adequate health resources to handled it. More than 50 percent of our intensive care hospital beds are available while they are at 100 percent capacity in Cuenca. How is that fair?”
Macas added that the entry of the delta variant into El Oro is the result of poor control of the Peruvian border on the province’s south side. “We urge President Guillermo Lasso to make it a priority to control the clandestine passages from Peru,” he said. “We feel we are being unfairly targeted because of our geography and the lack of government support.”
Bismark Ruilova, mayor of Atahualpa, claims that the El Oro restrictions are an over-reaction. “The health ministry tells us that delta cannot be stopped and that the variant will be all over the country within a matter of weeks. The situation should be managed natgionally without putting the burden on us.”