The Cuenca Emergency Operations Committee voted Friday to keep the city on “yellow light” health safety protocols for the week beginning June 1. The committee said it was pleased with the first week of relaxed restrictions, saying that hospital capacity remains sufficient and that the number of new infections is dropping.
According to the Ministry of Public Health, 55 new cases of coronavirus were reported in Cuenca between May 22 and May 29, compared to 98 the previous week. In total, the city has recorded 719 cases since mid-March. Nationally, the count stands at 38,571, with 2,129 deaths.
Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos said that the city and Azuay Province have fared well during the pandemic, noting that deaths from all causes are also dropping, from 54 two weeks ago to 38 last week. “Only a small number of the deaths are related to Covid-19 but I believe the total shows the overall downward trend,” he said.
He added that, like other cities in the Ecuadorian sierra, high altitude appears to have reduced the total number of cases. “For reasons we do not yet understand, areas above 1,850 meters (6,000 feet) in elevation seem to suffer less from the virus, both in the number of cases and severity of infection.”
Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios expressed optimism about the “reopening of social and economic life” in Cuenca. “We had a good week and I believe next week will be even better,” he said. “Our hospital situation continues to improve and we have intensive care beds available if they are needed. At the same time, businesses and public offices are reopening under biosecurity protocols and many more will reopen next week.”
According to Palacios, progress has been made in talks with the union representing public bus owners and he believes service can resume on Monday. “We hope to have public transit running again next week, although it will operate at 50 percent capacity,” he said. “This is critical to a return of normalcy in Cuenca.”
Palacios said he is “thrilled” with the first week of operation of the tram system. “We had far more riders than we expected and are reevaluating our daily ridership estimates due to the popularity.” The tram is offering free rides until service becomes operational in late July or early August.
Airlines delay airport reopenings
Only three days before air service was scheduled to resume in Ecuador, the country’s two major carriers announced they would not fly until June 15. Latam and Avianca cited the delayed reopening of the Guayaquil international airport for their decision. “It is not optimal for us to begin service without the Guayaquil airport so we will resume operations June 15,” Latam said in statement. Latam will serve Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca while Avianca will serve Quito, Guayaquil, Coca and Manta. Aeroregional, which operates one aircraft, will also resume service on June 15, flying between Loja and Quito.
A spokesman for Avianca said that arrangements are still being made for international flights from Quito and Guayaquil. “Many details remain to be resolved since some countries will not reopen their airports until July, August or even September,” he said. “We also must reestablish our network of connecting flights since this is critical for the sustainability of international travel.”
Moreno asks universities for sacrifices
President Lenin Moreno is urging university students and administrators to “shoulder their share of the national sacrifice” and accept the 10 percent budget cut he proposed. “The entire country is paying a terrible price in these difficult economic times and I ask higher education accept its part in helping the recovery,” he said. Students and administers have staged protests of the proposed reduction in major cities and the legality of the cuts is currently being considered by the Constitutional Court. “Public employees are reducing their hours and pay by 25 percent and all public functions have been ordered to cut spending by 10 to 15 percent,” Moreno said. “It would be grossly unfair for universities not to participate in the sacrifice.”
Moreno said he is encouraged by the recent rebound of oil prices, since revenue from oil production amounts to 20 percent of the national budget. “If this trend continues, the pain of the recovery will be reduced,” he said. “None-the-less, due to the impact of the coronavirus and lower petroleum prices, we face a difficult road back to fiscal health.”
The Constitutional Court is expected to rule next week whether universities must accept the budget reductions.