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Confirmed virus cases continue to rise; Cuenca police say compliance with new curfew hours is good; Patrols increased in Guayas ‘hotspot’

Cuenca streets were empty after the start of the 2 p.m. curfew on Wednesday.

Although it is too early to tell if Ecuador’s shelter-in-place rules are slowing the spread of the Covid-19 virus, Ecuador’s new Minister of Heatlh Juan Carlos Zevallos says he expects to see a “flattening of the curve” of new infections within a week to 10 days. “We are seeing some positive signs of improvement and we should see more in the coming days,” he said Wednesday.

Soldiers prepare to patrol Guayas Province roads on Wednesday.

With the new 2 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew going into effect on Wednesday, Ecuador has mandated some of the toughest social distancing orders in Latin America, Zevallos says. “We are following protocols recommended by the world’s best epidemiologists and health experts and we believe we began doing this early enough to avoid the contagions we are witnessing in Europe and now the U.S. This will not be short fight. It will take many weeks and maybe months, but we should see progress very soon.”

National health officials say they continue to suffer from a shortage of test kits and admit they are turning away people with mild symptoms. “We have to focus on the most severe cases at this point but more tests are on the way,” says regional health ministry director David Ordóñez.

Several health experts, including Quito epidemiologist Alfredo Bruno, say that the actual total of virus cases in the country is at least 10 times more than those confirmed.

The government announced another day of rising virus case counts Wednesday, with the total of confirmed cases now standing at 1211. Guayas Province has almost 75 percent of the total with 885, followed by Pichincha at 108, Los Ríos at 40, Manabí at 38 and Azuay at 31. Of Cuenca’s 29 cases, six are hospitalized.

Virus update

Extra controls placed on Guayas Province
With more than 3,500 police and military personnel patrolling streets and manning roadblocks, the government is putting special emphasis on Guayaquil and Guayas Province to stop the coronavirus spread. “Guayas is the epicenter of the virus in Ecuador and this is where we are concentrating our efforts,” says Risk Management Office Director Alexandra Ocles. “We are checking more vehicles and stopping more people on the streets there than in any other community in the country.”

On Wednesday, new road checks were established throughout the province and police began sweeps of several neighborhoods after the new 2 p.m. curferw went into effect. At midnight, police reported more than 80 arrests. “We are sending out a clear message that no one is to be on the street during curfew and that only those with legitimate business should be out during the morning,” said National Police commander Tanya Varela.

Police relocate the homeless in Cuenca, are pleased with curfew compliance
Police have stepped up efforts at city markets, parks and on river banks to locate homeless people and take them to two designated shelters. A sweep of the massive Feria Libre market on Av. Las Americas Wednesday netted half a dozens alcoholics that health officials say are at high risk for contracting and spreading the coronavirus. In addition, police picked up 17 homeless people who had been living outdoors, most of them Venezuelan and Colombian refugees.

Fire department paramedics assisted several homeless men near Feria Libre Wednesday afternoon, mending wounds suffered in falls and fights. “We need to keep these people healthy and get them off the streets,” said a police officer directing efforts at the market. Police worked in coordination with the provincial governor’s office and the Catholic Archdiocese of Cuenca in distributing food to some of the homeless.

In a 10 p.m. Tweet, the regional police command said it was pleased with compliance with the new curfew hours, reporting only a handful of people on the streets.