Covid-19 restrictions are relaxed as Cuenca exits ‘red alert’ list; Local gov’ts free to adopt their own rules

Jan 24, 2022 | 46 comments

The national Emergency Operations Committee has removed most of the country from its ‘red alert’ pandemic list, including Cuenca, Quito and Guayaquil. The COE announced the move during a Saturday meeting following a report by Health Minister Ximena Garzón that Covid-19 cases have dropped dramatically in the last week.

Members of the National Emergency Operatoins Committee listen to a report by Health Minister Ximena Garzón on Saturday. (El Comercio)

Of the 193 cantons put on red alert status a week ago, only 13 with a high percentage of positive Covid tests, continue in red. Of the country’s 213 cantons, 171 are now at yellow alert while 29 are in green status with minimal restrictions.

The COE said that schools in cantons not under a red alert can resume face-to-face classes and that capacity limits in restaurants, stores and public events can return to the 50 to 75 percent limits that existed before January 16. Capacity limits for public transportation were also removed.

The committee had been under mounting pressure from parent organizations and the United Nations to reopen schools.

Garzón reported that new Covid-19 cases dropped to 37,180 last week, down from 47,053 the previous week. “We have passed the peak of the Omicron surge and expect cases to continue to drop quickly,” she told COE members. “To make sure this down-trend continues, we should maintain biosecurity measures, such as social distancing and masking, but I believe that normal social and economic activity will return soon throughout the country.”

The downward infections trend was most evident in coastal provinces, where Omicron first appeared, Garzón said. “But we are seeing drops in the sierra too and feel confident this will continue.”

According to Health Ministry statistics, deaths from Covid are at their lowest point in 20 months, with Omicron not adding significantly to the count. “We are fortunate that the new variant is relatively mild and has not led to a large increase in hospitalizations and deaths,” Garzón said. “A large percentage of Ecuadorians have contracted the variant, possibly 20 percent of the population, but most are recovering at home or have exhibited no symptoms at all. I credit our high rate of vaccination for the positive outcome.”

She added that hospitalizations have risen but most hospitals still have additional capacity. “We are at about 80 percent now so we have a small amount of flexibility for additional patients.”

In addition to relaxing red alert restrictions, the national mandate requiring proof of vaccination for entry to businesses and public events with capacity limits expired on Sunday. The requirement, adopted by the COE on December 23, applied to shopping centers, grocery stores, public food markets, restaurants, theaters and public transportation.

The vaccination requirement for international travelers arriving in Ecuador remains in force.

The national COE encouraged local COEs to follow its recommendations but said they are free to adopt their own safety measures. In the case of schools, it said that it should be up to communities and parents whether children return to face-to-face classes.

Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri reacted angrily to the relaxation of restrictions, calling the government’s action “irresponsible and premature,” claiming the threat of “this deadly plague is still with us.”

Following her lead, the city COE voted to maintain all red alert restrictions, including the closure of schools, reduced capacities for businesses as well as vaccination entry requirements. Viteri warned businesses they would be fined and possible closed if they followed national COE recommendations. “There will be no change in the rules in Guayaquil until we give the word.”

In a Sunday morning meeting, the Cuenca COE voted to accept the national COE’s recommendations to allow increased capacity for businesses, offices and public events. It said it is encouraging but not requiring businesses to continue to ask customers for proof of vaccination for entry. It also decided to keep bars, night clubs and brothels closed.

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