Election campaign begins Thursday; Covid ICU admissions increase; Gov’t issues then retracts ‘orange alert’; 2021 budget figures low oil price
The campaign for Ecuador’s February 7 national election officially begins on Thursday. Sixteen candidates are vying for the presidency while almost a thousand are competing for 137 seats in the National Assembly.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, traditional campaign rallies with speeches and large political gatherings have been banned although motor caravans will be allowed. To compensate for the restrictions on public access, a national media consortium has organized a series of debates and interviews with presidential and Assembly candidates.
The amount of money candidates are allowed to spend is regulated by the National Elections Commission although critics claim that loopholes allow unregulated expenditure, particularly for internet advertising. Under COE rules, presidential candidates cannot spend more than a million dollars on the campaign, including government and private funding and the party contribution.
In the presidential race, a composite of polls shows center-right candidate Guillermo Lasso with a small lead over the center-leftist Correista candidate Andres Arauz and leftist indigenous party candidate Yaku Perez. The 13 other candidates are polling two percent or less.
Unless one candidate receives 50 percent of the vote or 40 percent with a 10 percent advantage over the second-place candidate in the February 7 election, a runoff election will be held April 4.
Covid ICU occupancy increases nationally
The Ministry of Health announced Monday that 78.8 percent of the country’s intensive care hospital beds are occupied, up from 72 percent last week. Of all intensive care cases, 44 percent are of Covid-19 patients.
Pichincha Province, which includes Quito, has the highest rate of ICU occupancy at 95 percent. Azuay Province reports 64 percent occupancy in public and private hospitals and clinics with a higher rate at the Social Security hospital.
Government issues Covid ‘orange alert’ then retracts it
Hours after the Ministry of Health issued an elevated “orange alert” for Covid-19, the presidential press office said the alert was issued in error. “At this point, the alert is being considered but has not been instituted,” a spokesman said.
The three-tiered alert system of yellow, orange and red, is used to determine health and mobility restrictions applied by national and local governments. Ecuador is currently under “yellow alert” status.
Before the orange alert had been taken back, Minister of Health Juan Carlos Zevallos said the heightened alert was necessary to prepare for the arrival of a new, more contagious variant of Covid-19 and to handle the anticipated increase in infections from the holiday season.
Zevallos said that no cases of the new Covid variant have been reported but he believes the variant, which was first identified in Great Britain, is already in the country.
The press spokesman said that only the national Emergency Operations Committee is authorized to raise the alert level and the COE had not ordered a change.
Ecuador budget figures oil at $37 per barrel
Finance Minister Mauricio Pozo said Sunday that the 2021 national budget will base oil revenue on a $37 per barrel price. “This is a conservative number but we do not want to make the mistake we made in 2020 of assuming an overly optimistic price,” he said in a television interview. The price of oil was set at $51 in the 2020 budget while the international average has remained in the low $40s range for most of the year.
According to Pozo, the high estimate in the current budget has led to the expectation of higher payouts to local governments from the national government. “That is not fair to anyone and puts stress on the budgets of municipalities, provinces and parishes,” he said, adding, “And of course, no one foresaw the pandemic. For 2021, we must maintain a modest outlook.”
On Monday, international oil prices averaged $49 a barrel.