Deaths double for IESS retirees; Galapagos tourist businesses demand full reopening; Manabí beaches reopen; Cuenca bus protest

Aug 25, 2020 | 9 comments

The number of deaths of retired members of the Social Security system (IESS) has more than doubled in 2020 since the same period in 2019. According to records released Saturday, 14,304 members died between January and July 2020 compared to 6,910 in 2019.

Protesting buses lined Av. Gil Ramirez Dávalos on Monday as owners demanded the reopening of interprovincial routes. (El Mercurio)

Although some retiree organizations say that the increase is the result of a “collapse” of the IESS health care system, the claim is disputed by IESS president Jorge Wated. “These are extraordinary times but I believe we have maintained our essential services through the heroic efforts of our doctors, nurses and support staffs,” he said. “When we have faced situations of over-capacity, we have been able to transfer patients to public and private facilities and no one has been denied service.”

Henry Llanes, vice president of the Association of Pichincha Pensioners disputes Wated’s contention, saying he has documented several cases in which IESS hospitals and clinics have been unable to provide critically needed services. “Many sick members have been told that there were no intensive care beds available to them at IESS hospitals or any other hospitals and they died as a result.”

Wated and Llanes agree that most excess deaths are not due to the Covid-19 virus. “Although the health ministry acknowledges that some coronavirus deaths are not included in the official counts we know that the vast majority of additional deaths are unrelated to Covid,” he says. “Many of them are the result of IESS members delaying medical treatment for other conditions for fear of being infected with Covid. This is a tragic side effect of the pandemic and we urge members who are sick not to delay visits to doctors, clinics and hospitals.”

Llanes says that IESS must do more to protect those visiting its facilities. “There is a reason that members defer visits and it is because of poor biosecurity measures,” he says. “If there was more confidence that they would be protected, more sick people would seek the services they need.”

Wated says he is optimistic that the Covid outbreak is declining in Ecuador. “In many parts of the country we are beginning to see less demand. We believe the worst of the virus is behind us and hope for a slow return to normalcy.”

Galapagos tourism interests protest, blocking main highway
Hundreds of protesters blocked the Via Baltra, the highway connecting the Baltra airport and Puerto Ayora on Monday, demanding that the local Emergency Operations Committee allow full reactivation of tourist services on Santa Cruz Island. Leaders of the protest say that restrictions, including curfews and weekend bans on liquor sales, is crippling tourism.

“The islands depend entirely on tourists — the hotels, tour operators, restaurants and bar and shops – and we simply cannot survive without the rules being relaxed or removed,” said José Herrera, spokesperson and coordinator of the Citizen Board of Santa Cruz. He is demanding a meeting with Galapagos Governing Council President Norman Wray. “We don’t believe the council understands our pain and our situation and we demand the right to go back to work and to make a living.”

Earlier in the month, the national COE and the Governing Council allowed the resumption of flights to Baltra and San Cristóbal with passengers only being required to show a negative Covid-19 test. Previously, arrivals to the islands were required to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

More beaches reopen
Beaches in Pedernales and Cojimíes have reopened and officials in Manabí Province say all beaches should be open within a matter of days. Local Emergency Operations Committees say they will monitor beach activities with security cameras and police to ensure that biosecurity measures, such as social distancing and the ban on liquor consumption, are observed. The Manabí Province prefectura has launched an advertising campaign to attract tourists from the sierra. “Residents in Quito, Ambato and Cuenca are still in school holidays and we want them to visit us before classes begin in September,” one official said.

Inter-provincial bus companies protest
More than 150 buses lined Cuenca streets Monday morning to protest restrictions on inter-provincial travel. “We were told two months that long-distance routes would reopen but most of them remain closed,” said Orlando Cabrera, representative of the Express Sucre Cooperative. “We are only able to operate between Cuenca and Loja and demand that routes to Guayaquil and Machala be activated since they provide a large part of our livelihoods. We have been without work for five-and-a-half months and some companies have gone out of business.”

The national Emergency Operations Committee said Monday it is analyzing the reopening of most inter-provincial bus travel and hopes to make a decision within a week. The COE authorized routes between Quito and the coast last week.