Ecuador and China sign free trade letter, talk debt restructuring; Covid cases continue decline; School back in session; Expats, locals protest mandates
Ecuador and China signed a memorandum of understanding for a free trade agreement Saturday and said details would be worked out in the coming months. The announcement was made following a meeting between President Guillermo Lasso and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Lasso’s press secretary said talks are also underway on a plan to restructure Ecuador’s debt to Chinese banks and to decouple debt repayment to oil shipments. “Chinese Prime Minister, Li Keqiang has agreed in principle to making changes to the debt arrangement and talks toward a final resolution are continuing,” a press office statement said.
“We had an extraordinary meeting with President Xi Jinping and talked about a broad range of subjects, including deepening relations in general between Ecuador and China,” Lasso said Sunday. “We hope to sign a final trade agreement by October and I am optimistic about what we can achieve in terms of debt renegotiation. I am very pleased to say that we have concrete news to report.”
According to Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Holguín, the trade agreement will provide a “substantial boost” to Ecuadorian exports. “Today, we pay as much as 30 percent in tariffs on some exports, which makes us non-competitive with Southeast Asian countries that have trade deals with China,” he said. He added that the banana and shrimp industries stand to gain the most from the elimination of tariffs.
Covid cases continue steep decline
Cases of Covid-19 continue to decline, according to the Ministry of Health. “The number of cases have fallen from a high of 11,000 a day three weeks ago to less than 4,000 on Saturday,” the Ministry press office said. It added that deaths from the virus remain low and have not risen appreciably during the recent surge of Omicron cases.
At hospitals in Quito and Cuenca, the demand for Covid patient beds is also declining, the ministry said. At Pablo Arturo Suárez hospital in Quito, hospitalizations due to the virus dropped from 70 two weeks ago to about 35 on Friday. Cuenca’s Vicente Corral Moscoso reported 28 patients hospitalized with Covid on Saturday, down from 59 during the last week of January.
“We are fortunate that the Omicron variant is not as dangerous as the earlier types of Covid,” says Jorge Peñaherrera, Pablo Arturo Suárez hospital director. “If it were, we would be overwhelmed with patients,” he said, adding: “Our experience is that Omicron is similar to the flu or a bad cold in most cases, which means there is less need for hospitalization except in cases of the most vulnerable patients.”
Schools attendance is mandatory again
For the first time in almost two years, attendance is mandatory for most public school students in Ecuador. Attendance is optional for students in grades one to five but is expected to be required by the end of February.
The resumption of classes affects 12,748 public schools. Almost all private schools as well as public and private universities and technical schools reopened earlier.
In Cuenca, parents of public school students were informed last week by email and phone that children in grades six and above are expected to return to class today. Students in lower grades were encouraged to return but the decision was left to parents.
Rally protests vaccines and mandates
A crowd of about 100, evenly divided between expats and Cuencanos, gathered Saturday at the Parque Calderon glorieta to hear speakers denounce Covid-19 vaccines and government-imposed restrictions. Some protesters waved signs at passersby on Calle Simon Bolivar while others handed out flyers.
“I know how to take care of myself and don’t need the government ordering me to take an experimental vaccine,” said Emily Franks, one of the protesters. “I am here to join my friends to stop this madness.”
Another attendee, named Dan, said his concern was the loss of individual rights. “My wife and I are vaccinated but I hate the mandates and the restrictions,” he said. “The shots were safe for us but they aren’t for other people. I also worry that a small group of elite government experts is gaining control over every aspect of our lives, telling us what is true and what isn’t and passing down edicts restricting our freedoms. If I was in charge, I would mandate that everyone in every government in the world read George Orwell’s “1984”.