Cuenca celebrates freedom from restrictions as holiday weekend begins; Volcanic explosion spreads ash; Covid numbers decline but caution is advised
Tens-of-thousands of Cuencanos and tourists poured into the historic district Friday night, celebrating the end of the month-long Covid-19 health emergency lockdown. Restaurants and cafes around Parque Calderon operated at full capacity for the first time in months, their owners looking forward to a profitable three-day holiday weekend. Hotels in the district were also reporting full bookings as visitors arrived from Guayaquil and the coast.
Similar nightlife scenes played out out in other areas of town too, including the dining and entertainment strip on the west side of San Sebastian Plaza, along Av. Remigio Crespo and Av. de los Cañaris.
“We are thrilled to see the people come out tonight and expect good crowds through the holiday,” said Romero Iglesias, who manages a restaurant in Casa de la Parque on Parque Calderon. “We have suffered so much for so long and we need a break. The whole city needs a break and it’s good that people are ready to have fun again.”
National police were busy breaking up drinking parties in several areas, including on the sidewalks of Remigio Crespo where enterprising young men served drinks from the trunks of their cars. Although several arrests were reported, police mostly issued warnings to partiers.
National and city officials say that the Battle of Pichincha holiday on Monday will be celebrated with “quiet and restrained” observances due to the pandemic.
Sangay explosion sends volcanic ash to the west
In one of the largest explosions in a year, the Sangay volcano sent a volcanic ash cloud four kilometers into the atmosphere Friday night. the National Risk Management Service warned that the ash is expected to drift west and south, affecting Chimborazo, Bolívar, Los Ríos, Guayas and Cañar Provinces. The service said that heavy ash fall is expected in parts of Guayaquil and could affect flights at the international airport. It adds that an expected change of wind direction Sunday could send ash to northern areas of Azuay Province but said ashfall would be light. Sangay is 85 kilometers northeast of Cuenca.
Farmers in Chimborazo and Bolívar Provinces are being advised to protect livestock and to expect damage to crops.
Overall Covid infections drop as South African variant kills first Ecuadorian
The national Emergency Operations Committee reported Friday that new Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are dropping rapidly and credited the 28-day health emergency restrictions for the the improvement. “The gains are impressive and we hope to see them continue in the coming weeks,” said Juan Zapata. president of the COE. He reported that hospitalizations and deaths have dropped more than 30 percent in a month but warned Ecuadorians not to let down their guard. “We have a long way to go until the end of the pandemic. We have only vaccinated six percent of the population, which means many people remain vulnerable.”
Zapata said that the rate of first vaccinations has dropped as a result of an interruption of shipments due to the crisis in India but said that hundreds of thousands of doses should arrive by the end of the month.
In Cuenca, the health ministry says ICU hospital occupancy remains near capacity but is dropping. It reports that most patients are from outside of Cuenca and Azuay Province. It also reports that in Cuenca, the rate of new cases and deaths is among the lowest in the country.
Also on Friday, the first patient diagnosed with the South African variant of the Covid-19 virus died Friday morning in the Luis Dávila General Hospital in Tulcán, the health ministry reports. The ministry says the patient, a 78-year-old man, contracted the disease from an unknown source since neither he, his family or close friends had traveled out of the country.