The government announced dramatic new measures Thursday to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Ecuador, including closure of the country’s schools. According to interior minister María Paula Romo, the new measures are necessary to reduce person-to-person contact.
“We understand that these actions are disruptive but we feel they must be made immediately to slow down the spread of the virus,” she said. “The disease is coming and it will affect many Ecuadorians. Our plan is to manage the outbreak, to slow the rate of transmission and reduce the overall impact.”
In addition to the school closings, the government is suspending public gatherings of more than 1,000 people, affecting concerts, sporting events and political rallies and protests.
The government provided additional details on the restrictions for travelers arriving from countries with large virus outbreaks. “From midnight tonight (Thursday), those arriving from China, Italy, Spain, France, South Korea, Japan and Iran must comply with mandatory preventive isolation in homes and hotels for a period of 14 days,” Romo said, adding that other countries with major outbreaks could be added to the list.
Los Ríos Province, north of Guayaquil, has additional restrictions due to the high number of suspected cases, including the closure of social clubs, bars and night clubs. Romo said that it is possible that such closures could be extended to the entire country.
Romo announced the new restrictions at a joint press conference with Education Minister Monserrat Creamer who explained that teachers will remain on the job and are developing internet-based teaching programs. “We are not certain how long schools will remain closed but it is our plan to allow students to work from home with the guidance of their teachers,” Creamer explained.
The new restrictions prompted long lines at grocery store check-out counters and gas stations throughout the country. In Cuenca, some shoppers waited for more than half an hour to complete purchases at one Supermaxi. On Thursday night, Romo urged calm, saying there are no shortages of basic goods and fuel except for those created by panic buying. “There is no need to hoard food and gasoline. Our supply chain is working normally and we don’t expect any disruptions,” she said in a Tweet. She added that misinformation is being spread through social media. “I urge all Ecuadorians to get their information from the government or through other reliable sources.”
Ecuador is not under a curfew, Romo says. “Our intention is to reduce exposure to the virus by reducing mass gatherings and taking other action based on recommendations from the World Health Organization. Most functions of the government continue to operate normally, including the judicial system, most public services and the transportation system. The exception is the schools.”
As of Thursday night, Ecuador has 19 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.