Officials are expressing satisfaction at the public response to the first day of restrictions on personal movement in Ecuador. “We knew there would be problems on day one but we were generally pleased with compliance,” said Ecuador Interior Minister María Paula Romo on Tuesday. “From what we learned, we are refining our message to the public and increasing refining our enforcement operations.”
The first day of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the Covid-19 virus ended with a nationwide nighttime curfew that will continue indefinitely. The prohibition of public transport and air service begins today, with the shutdown of municipal and interprovincial bus service.
Taxis are allowed to operate with the stipulation that drivers verify that passengers have a legitimate reason to travel.
Responding to social media and radio talk show comments criticizing enforcement of the stay-at-home rules, Romo said that police are focusing on “major violators” and not on individuals who may not understand the rules. “We will explain the requirements to those we find on the street without a valid reason and, in some cases, escort them home, but we are applying our resources to apprehending those who are willfully taking advantage of the emergency by operating businesses that are not allowed to open. These are the ones putting the largest number of people at risk.” she said.
“Our message to all Ecuadorians is to take personal responsbility to protect their own health and that of the nation during this crisis. It is not our mission to put individual citizens in jail for violations but to make them understand the nature of the emergency and the rules we must follow,” she said.
National police made more than 400 arrests Monday, most for the operation of non-essential businesses. In one case near Cuenca, police are looking for man who owns a bar in Santa Isabel. During an afternoon raid, police found 20 customers in the bar as the owner ran out the back door. “We know who is and we will catch him,” said the officer who led the raid. “He understood the rules since they were given to every business owner in the neighborhood so his violation carries a criminal sanction.”
The Ministry of Health reported a dramatic increase in confirmed Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, with the 113 total almost doubling Monday’s. “We can expect rapid increases to continue in the coming days and weeks,” Minister of Health Catalina Andramuño said in a Tuesday afternoon press conference. “The pandemic has arrived in Ecuador.”
In Cuenca, the number of confirmed virus cases went from one on Monday to seven Tuesday afternoon, with three of the infected being treated in local hospitals.
A number medical experts are sounding the alarm that the confirmed case count is only a fraction of Ecuador’s total. “The official numbers are very deceiving due to the lack of testing and I would say they are almost meaningless except as a general measure of the spread,” says Gustavo Iglesias, a professor at Cuenca’s Catholic University medical school. “Worldwide, the experts advise that you multiply the tested numbers by 10, or even a hundred, to get the real number,” he says. “In Cuenca today, there are hundreds, maybe more than a thousand, of infected people and many of them are spreading the disease to others.”
On Tuesday, the health ministry announced it was taking over the National High Performance Athletic Training Center in Cuenca for coronavirus treatment. The center has 258 dormitory rooms that can be converted to medical treatment wards if necessary. The ministry said the athletes that had been housed at the center have returned home.
With the increased space, a ministry spokeswoman said Cuenca was one of the best equipped cities in Ecuador to handle an outbreak.