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Cuenca restaurants face closure; Tourism ‘catastrophe’ looms; City market sales slow; Colombia bans Colombians from coming home

Although many Cuenca restaurants continue to provide take-out meals, some are closing down entirely due to the loss of dine-in business. “We tried take-out for a few days but found that it was not economical and decided to close,” said one El Centro owner. “We had to send our kitchen staff home. We had already let go the servers. Maybe we will reopen when this is over but we don’t know when that will be. If the coronavirus goes on too long we will not reopen.”

Some Cuenca restaurant may go out of business as a result of the coronavirus emergency.

Even some restaurants with large volumes of home delivery say they may close. The owner of a popular Italian restaurant says he is concerned about Covid-19 spreading to his staff. “We have eight or nine people cooking and packaging and others who deliver and we have to work close to each other – we cannot practice social distancing,” he said. “It may be best for everyone if we close operations for several weeks. I hope it is only for a few weeks.”

The manager at another Cuenca restaurant, who asked not to be named, predicts that most restaurants will probably go out of business as a result of the coronavirus. “I hope I am wrong becasue I love this business,” he said. “At our store, we are keeping essential personnel for the delivery business but most of the employees have already been released and this is true all over town. Within a week or two, many of the restaurants will not be able to remain in business and they will not be able to come back later.”

‘Catastrophe’ for tourist industry
The president of the Ecuador Chambers of Tourism, Holbach Muñetón, says most hotels and tour operators will go out of business without immediate help from banks and the government. “We are in free fall right now, we are suffering a catastrophe, and some of our members have already gone out of business.” he says. “This virus is not only deadly for people, it is deadly for small businesses too.”

Muñetón says that the only foreign tourists in Ecuador are desperate to go home and no new ones are arriving due to the ban on international flights. “No tours are operating and most tour businesses and travel agencies are closed. Business is just as bad for hotels since most of them or empty.”

Many produce stalls are closed at 9 of October market. (El Tiempo)

Sales are down at city markets
A survey of Cuenca mercados on Friday showed that most are operating at less than 50 percent capacity due the Covid-19 mobility restrictions. Sellers said that many of their customers are shopping at supermarkets where they can shop for non-food items as well as food. “I understand,” said one vendor at the Doce de Abril market. “You can’t leave your home very much so people want to consolidate their trips and the big grocery stores are better for this than the mercados.” She added that she does not know how much longer will keep her vegetable stall open.

Market managers say there is no shortage of products. “The farms are growing the vegetables and fruits and livestock as always,” a floor superintendent at Nueve de Octubre said. “All we need are customers.”

Colombia bans Colombians from returning to Colombia
The Colombian government says it is reviewing an order issued Thursday effectively preventing Colombians in other countries from coming home. The ban on returning Colombians was the result of sealing the borders and the cessation of international flights officials said were necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

On Friday night, President Ivan Duque issued a 19-day quarantine for Colombians, an order that strengthens earlier stay-at-home recommendations and the closure of non-essential businesses. “We will apply compulsory preventive isolation for all Colombians from next Tuesday, March 24 at 11:59 p.m. until Monday, April 13 at midnight,” Duque said. “These drastic actions are necessary due to the spread of Covid-19 and we pray that they are effective.”