Ecuador hopes to add Johnson & Johnson and Sputnik vaccines; Unemployment surges in Cuenca and nationwide; Bus drivers fined for capacity violations

Apr 28, 2021 | 9 comments

In discussions with the Guillermo Lasso’s presidential transition team, the government revealed Monday that it expects to receive shipments of the Johnson & Johnson and Sputnik vaccines. Currently, the health ministry is administering only the Pfizer and Sinovac vaccines although it expects a shipment next week of from AstraZeneca.

Men looking for work gather in Cuenca’s San Francisco Plaza. (El Mercurio)

In a meeting about vaccine deliveries, Vice President María Alejandra Muñoz told Vice President-elect Alfredo Borrero that the acquisition of vaccines has been “extremely frustrating” as the country has contracts for 20 million doses but has received less than two million. Muñoz explained that the delivery delay was the result of richer countries having shipment priority but said she believes this will change in the coming weeks. She said that the government has begun direct talks with several additional vaccine producers, including, Moderna, Gamaleya, Sinopharm, Cansino Biologics and Novavax in hopes of signing new contracts.

Unemployment and underemployment rate surges
Although the government says unemployment in Cuenca is 8.2 percent, economists say the number is a gross undercount. Also inaccurate, they say, is the government’s estimate that 51.9 percent of local workers earn an “adequate” wage, meaning the minimum $400 per month salary. “The numbers in Cuenca and in other major cities are much worse than those reported,” says Gustavo Ruales, consultant to the Ecuador Chamber of Commerce. “The real unemployment rate is 30 to 40 percent, more than double pre-pandemic levels, and many of those considered fully employed are struggling financially. Because of poor data management and the large amount of informal work, it is almost impossible to determine accurate figures.”

Ruales believes that less than 40 percent of Ecuadorian workers actually qualify for the adequate employment level. “We are suffering an unprecedented crisis, like other countries in the region, and the official numbers do not reflect this,” he says. He adds that employment numbers do not include approximately 450,000 Venezueulan refugees, the vast majority of them unemployed.

According to employment information released Monday by the National Institute of Statistics and Census, the number of workers adequately employed in Cuenca has dropped by 14 percent since March 2019, prior to the Covid pandemic. The institute reports that adequate employment is 48.9 percent in Quito and 44.6 percent in Guayaquil.

Municipal and transit police fine bus drivers
Police have fined seven municipal bus drivers and issued more than 20 warnings for violations of the 50 percent capacity restriction on buses. Bus company owners complained that the violations are rare due to a drop in ridership. “The new curfews and restrictions have scared many of our customers away and the only time we approach 50 percent is during peak hours,” a spokesman for the Cuenca Transportation Chamber said. “The fines, which the owners will pay, are unfair given the fact that the companies are fighting for survival under the new rules.”

The transit police also report fining more than 100 Cuenca drivers over the weekend and on Monday night for curfew violations. Police say they are intensifying patrols to enforce the 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.

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