As new cases of Covid-19 drop in Cuenca, the cantonal Emergency Operations Committee (COE) plans to reduce restrictions imposed to protect public health, some of them as long ago as March of 2020. The COE held its first meeting Tuesday to consider relaxing capacity limits for public transportation, restaurants and public gatherings. In addition, it will discuss the process to reopen bars and nightclubs, which have been closed for more than a year-and-a-half.
“Cuenca appears to be emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic and it is time to begin modifying and eliminating some of the rules that have been in enacted,” says COE member Omar Álvarez. “We have recorded only two Covid deaths in the last week and our hospitals are closing the wards that treated victims of the virus.” He cautioned, however, that because the pandemic may be ending, Covid is not going away. “Doctors tell us that it will be remain with us, maybe for years, and we will have to live with it and continue some precautions.”
Bus, restaurant and gym owners are pushing for a return of full capacity from the current 50 percent and 30 percent limits while owners of bars and discotheques are asking to reopen.
The COE said it is looking at a pilot program in Quito which has allowed bars to reopen and will consider similar measures in Cuenca. Local brothels were allowed to reopen two weeks ago based on a weekly testing program of prostitutes. The committee decided earlier to allow football fans to attend Saturday’s championship game between Cuenca and Los Chillos at Alejandro Serrano Aguilar Stadium.
Freelancers collect illegal road tolls on Cajas highway
Police have increased patrols to stop a group of entrepreneurs who are collecting tolls from motorists on the Cajas highway to Guayaquil. On Monday and Tuesday, the illegal toll-takers stopped dozens of cars, trucks and buses, demanding a fee of $1 to $5 dollars. The highway, which was closed last week due to landslides, is open during daylight hours on a restricted basis as the transportation ministry decides what to do about the “collapsing mountain” above it.
Although the toll-takers told motorists that the fee for passage was a contribution for the poor living in the area, several of them held rocks in their hands along the roadway and one car reported being hit when the driver refused to pay and ran the roadblock.
Inflation remains low
Inflation remains at historically low levels, rising only a .12 percent in August, the National Institute of Statistics (INEC) reports. For the year, the rate stands at 1.28 percent. The economic sector with the largest increase in expenses, one percent, was transportation as a result of rising diesel and gasoline prices. INEC says that the pandemic has been the major factor in keeping inflation low during the past 18 months. “As the economy emerges from the effects of the Covid-19 virus, there will an increase in the rate but we believe it will be modest,” the institute said.
Highway reopens following heavy snowfall
The Quito – Papallacta highway, east of Quito, was fully operational Tuesday following the closure Sunday and Monday due to heavy snowfall. Police reported that 55 private vehicles, 18 buses and 12 large transport trucks were stuck for as long as 15 hours due to the snowstorm that dropped as much as 33 centimeters (one foot) of snow Sunday night and Monday morning.
The Ecuador Cruz Roja set up several “warming tents” along the affected route to provide food and beverages to stranded motorists.