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Ecuador News

Fears grow that Quito could be the next Covid hotspot while rates spike on the coast; New air travel testing rules; Curfew hours adjusted

Health officials worry that the epicenter of Ecuador’s coronavirus outbreak is shifting from Guayaquil to Quito, as the number of deaths in Quito grew by 83 percent from Thursday to Saturday. They are also concerned about the growing number of infections in the country’s coastal region.

A police officer checks the documents of a Quito motorist.

According to the Ministry of Health, confirmed Covid-19 deaths in Quito rose from 114 to 209 in two days and health officers concede that the actual count is probably much higher.

Guayaquil was at the center of one of Latin America’s worst outbreaks in late March and April, recording as many as 10,000 coronavirus deaths, most of them unconfirmed due to testing limitations. Cemeteries ran out of space and families stored relatives’ dead bodies in their homes or on sidewalks as the virus strained the health system’s capacity to collect them.

But authorities’ attention is now turning to Quito, whose 2.8 million residents are under a strict lockdown. The local government said in a statement on Friday that between April 4 and May 13 it had picked up the bodies of six people who had died in the streets, in addition to seven bodies from homes and two from nursing homes.

The government said on Thursday night that 135 of the 164 intensive care beds in the city’s public hospitals are occupied, and that it plans to install 80 more.

“Quito’s health system is reaching its limit,” the city’s mayor, Jorge Yunda, said  Friday during the opening of a temporary 380-bed hospital for coronavirus patients.

Pichincha Province, where Quito is located, has registered some 2,550 coronavirus cases, a number that has risen dramatically in recent days. That is still far fewer than Guayas Province, home to Guayaquil, where 17,000 of the country’s 32,723 total cases have been registered. Officially, 2,688 deaths have been recorded in the country.

“We are many thousands of cases away from matching the tragedy of Guayaquil but we must intensify our controls to make sure that does not happen,” Yunda says. “We will remain under full quarantine rules until we are sure the most serious danger has passed.”

Pichincha Province is not the only area that the health ministry is concerned about. Los Ríos, north of Guayas Province, reported a 46.31% increase in number of deaths in two days while Santa Elena Province showed a 26% increase and Manabí Province a 17.5% increase.

Virus update

Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo

Entering air travelers will need a Covid test
Beginning Thursday, all international air travelers entering Ecuador will be required to take the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) Covid-19 test within 72 hours of boarding a flight. They will undergo a second “rapid test” on arrival in Quito or Guayaquil. Interior Minister María Paula Romo announced the requirement Sunday, saying the new rule became necessary due to the arrival of infected Ecuadorians returning to the country on humanitarian charter flights.

According to Romo, infected travelers arrived on flights from New York, Mexico City and Buenos Aires. Of the 142 passengers who arrived in Guayaquil from Mexico, 21 tested positive while seven of 147 passengers from Buenos Aires were positive.

Romo said the new rules apply to incoming humanitarian flights and that rules for commercial air travel, once it resumes, will be determined based on international protocols.

Curfew hours are updated
National health emergency curfew hours have been extended for cantons under “yellow light” status and are being considered for cantons that maintain the “red light.” The new curfew for yellow light cantons is 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., a change from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m., according Interior Minister María Paula Romo, who said a decision to extend the curfew for red light cantons will be made by Wednesday.

Labor, tourism groups want changes to Humanitarian Law
President Lenin Moreno has until June 15 to sign the Humanitarian Law passed last week by the National Assembly. Labor organizations are asking for line-item vetoes of two provisions in the law, one that allows employers to reduce schedules and pay of employees by as much as 50 percent and another allowing employers to dictate when employees can take vacations. Representatives of the tourism industry are also asking Moreno to veto a clause permitting direct international flights to the Galapagos, bypassing the current Guayaquil and Quito hubs.