Fears rise that Covid restrictions are being lifted too soon; 15 airline passengers test positive in Guayaquil; Sangay volcano eruption intensifies

Jun 18, 2020 | 45 comments

Local and national health authorities are worried that the Covid-19 outbreak may be intensifying as the country relaxes emergency health restrictions. They suggest that increasing contact among residents due to the reopening of businesses, markets and public transportation has led to a dangerous upward trend in new infections.

Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri, left, is angry that the government is not testing national air passengers.

Although the Ministry of Health and elected officials insist that the pandemic curve has flattened, infectious disease experts are not convinced. Cuenca epidemiologist Andrea Gomez believes the peak number of cases will not be reached locally until early or mid-July. “I think the government is promoting a false sense of security in Cuenca and other parts of the country,” she says. “The removal of limitations on personal movement and commercial activity is spreading new infection and this is being in ignored.”

Ecuador’s Ministry of Health tells a different story, claiming the worst is over. “The situation remains very serious but we believe it is under control,” says Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos. “We have many more recovered cases these days than new ones but we ask local authorities to redouble efforts to maintain controls. Careless activity among people will increase the spread and could cause new case spikes.”

Zevallos believes that “herd immunity” is reaching levels of 20 to 30 percent in some areas of the country, particularly in Guayas Province.

Within the last week, the number of Covid-19 infections in Cuenca almost doubled over the previous week, rising from 218 to 120. “This is to be expected as businesses and public transportation reopen,” says Julio Molina, the health ministry’s regional director. “I am concerned, however, that some of the increase is the result of the failure of some people to follow the rules. I encourage in the most extreme terms possible that residents maintain social distancing standards and wear facemasks. If this doesn’t happen we may be forced to return to red light standards.”

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Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios also urges caution in public interactions but says the outbreak is being contained. “We have capacity to treat the most seriously ill patients in our hospitals and we are adding more intensive care beds this week.” He added that total Covid-19 deaths in Cuenca did not rise in the past 10 days, holding steady at 41. “We are doing more testing and this produces more positive results so we should not assume the situation is deteriorating.”

Gomez worries that the desire to return to normal is leading to careless decisions. “We are all tired of the restrictions,” she says. “We must deal with the reality of the disease, however, or we will pay a high price. Like one doctor said in the United States, we might be through with Covid but it’s not through with us.”

15 arriving Guayaquil air passengers test positive for Covid
Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri criticized the national government Wednesday after 15 passengers on two flights from Quito tested positive for the coronavirus. “We have just recovered from a terrible ordeal and I will not allow careless government policies to set off a new outbreak in Guayaquil,” she said. “I expect transportation and health officials to test all passengers before allowing them to fly here and, if they don’t, we will.” Although the government is testing incoming international passengers, it has no program to test national passengers.

Sangay volcano activity intensifies
Ecuador’s Office of Risk Management has declared a yellow alert for Chimborazo Province as eruptive activity at the Sangay Volcano increases. “The areas adjacent to the volcano could experience dangerous lahars and lava flows and residents should be prepared to evacuate,” the office said in a statement. “In addition, heavy ashfall is possible to the west of the eruption.”

Covid outbreak at German slaughterhouse causes alarm
A massive outbreak of Covid-19 at a slaughterhouse in northwest Germany has prompted European Union health officials to rethink their strategy for controlling the spread of the virus. On Monday and Tuesday, 659 out of 894 employees at the Rheda-Wiedenbrück meat processing plant tested positive. “This is terrifying news and may affect our approach to protecting workers in large plants,” said Michele Gunter, of the EU health office. “This shows how quickly the virus can spread and calls into question our approach to reopening the economy. We are not finished with this virus by any means.”

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