Government defends decision to end health emergency; 77% in El Centro nursing home test positive; New cases drop in 22 of 24 provinces

Aug 27, 2020 | 97 comments

Facing angry reaction from some local officials and health experts, the government defended its decision Wednesday to end the national health emergency on September 12. “We are following the direction of the Constitutional Court and understand the need to restore the civil rights that have been suspended for more than five months,” Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo said.

Ecuador’s Constitutional Court has the final authority to grant states of emergency.

Dozens of mayors and prefects have voiced opposition to the plan, claiming that it is too early to end the emergency. “We need the authority to control the pandemic and if it ends, I am afraid we will see a rise in cases and deaths,” said Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri. “This action is irresponsible and puts citizens at risk.”

Health experts also expressed alarm, claiming that a lack of testing does not provide adequate data for making a decision. “There is much we don’t know about this disease but one thing we do know is that it runs in cycles, with infections rising and falling based on human interaction,” says Bernardo Vega, former dean of the University of Cuenca medical school. “The only way we can control this interaction is through restrictions on mobility and public congregation.”

Romo responded that there is a misunderstanding about the government’s authority to issue emergency declarations. “Because the state of emergency restricts civil rights, the Constitutional Court must give its approval,” she said. “In its June 29 authorization, the judges said that they would allow only one more extension and this was granted August 12 and expires September 12. They were very clear that this would be last authorization.”

In its June 29 ruling, the court wrote, “The state of emergency cannot be perrenialized or allowed to become the standard regime.”

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Romo said that if the pandemic takes a dramatic turn for the worst between now and September 12, the government would consider asking for another declaration. “This is possible, but we fully expect the court to reject it if we did. As of today, we have no plans to ask for an extension.”

She added that local governments can enforce ordinances they feel necessary for maintaining public health but they will not be allowed to order curfews or restrict personal movement or gatherings. “These are civil rights granted by the constitution that cannot be abridged,” she said.

77% in El Centro nursing home test positive for Covid
“We could be facing a potential disaster here,” said Alfredo Campoverde of Bioncogen Lab Wednesday after Covid-19 tests showed 77 percent of the residents of Hogar Cristo Rey, home for the elderly, had contracted the virus. “We have instructed the staff to monitor residents closely since they are very vulnerable to the infection,” he said. “We also urge the staff to take the biosecurity measures necessary to protect themselves. This is an alarming situation and I fear for the lives those who live and work at Cristo Rey. Of the 173 residents at the facility, which is operated by the Catholic Church, 133 tested positive. Cristo Rey administrators say that none of its residents have required hospitalization within the last week.

Health minister says Covid cases are dropping
Saying that Ecuador has entered a “new phase” in combating the Covid pandemic, Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos said Wednesday that new cases of the virus are dropping in 22 of the country’s 24 provinces. “Today, we have one of the lowest rates of infection in Latin America as we continue to make progress against the pandemic,” he said. “We must maintain our efforts but I believe the worst of the outbreak is behind us.”

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