Ecuador Health Juan Carlos Zevallos said Sunday that he does not expect to see a surge in Covid-19 cases like those being experienced in the U.S. and Europe. “The numbers of new cases increased last week but it was not the kind of spike we are seeing elsewhere, including in our neighboring countries,” he said. “We are on alert for the new variants that have been identified in Britain, South Africa, Brazil and elsewhere, but we must be careful not to over-react to sensational stories in the news.”
Overall, Zevallos says Ecuador has fared comparatively well in the pandemic. “Although we were the first in the region to experience crisis conditions – in particularly, the outbreak in Guayaquil in April – our numbers per capita are now among the best in Latin America and better than those in the U.S. and many EU countries,” he says.
As of Sunday, Colombia reported 1.9 million total infections and 49,000 deaths while Peru had 1.2 million infections and 39,400 deaths. By comparison, Ecuador reported 230,644 cases with 14,300 deaths. “Our population is smaller but on a per capita bases our numbers are less than half of those of our neighbors,” Zevallos says. “More important, we still have critical care capacity in our hospitals whereas Colombia and Peru are well above 90 percent at this point.” He added that ICU occupancy in Ecuador, in both public and private hospitals, is currently at 73 percent.
The minister says the reasons for Ecuador’s relative success in combating Covid are difficult to identify but says the national lockdown in March, imposed earlier than neighboring countries, is partly responsible. “We have also been consistent with continuing restrictions and compliance has been fairly good,” he says. He also believes that the high altitude of cities such as Quito, Cuenca and Riobamba may have reduced the impact of the virus. “There is preliminary evidence that the severity of Covid infections among higher elevation populations is less extreme than at lower elevations and our deaths-to-cases ratio bears this out.”
Speaking from Washington, D.C., where he is negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for delivery of vaccines, Zevallos said the timing of Ecudaor’s vaccination program remains in flux. “We lag behind early expectations but are making progress in arranging immediate shipments for healthcare workers and residents of geriatric centers. We are also very optimistic about the shipment of four million doses to be administered to the most vulnerable segments of our population in March,” he said. He added that the country is at a disadvantage to richer countries that have invested in vaccine development and have paid in advance for large orders.
Despite the relative good news, Zevallos says he expects the number of infections to increase in the coming weeks. “We are just beginning to see the impact of holiday gatherings and numbers should remain elevated for several weeks and possibly beyond, depending on the spread of the variants.”
He added: “It is critical that Ecuadorians continue to follow social distancing and other protocols that protect the public health. Most important is to avoid large indoor gatherings. We must be prepared for many more months of the pandemic and it is extremely important that people do not relax their efforts. It is also important, however, to know that we have made great progress and, with the introduction of the vaccine, that we are on the road to recovery.”