Ecuador’s Health Minister Ximena Garzón said Wednesday that Covid-19 cases are dropping rapidly that the government will consider reducing or eliminating some health restrictions, particularly the outdoor masking requirement, as conditions improve.
She said that the positivity rate of Covid tests has dropped from 65 percent in mid-January to 15 percent on Tuesday. “When we drop to 5 percent or below, it will be time to eliminate the outdoor masking requirement,” she said. “After that, if the trend continues, we will end it for indoor venues and look at reducing other requirements. We can give credit for the improvement to our successful vaccination program, which has reached 84 percent of the population, the second highest level in Latin America.”
Garzón presented statistics showing that new cases confirmed by testing dropped to 1,180 on Tuesday, down from a peak of 11,090 on January 15. She said that 99 percent of cases are of the Omicron variant. She added the deaths from Covid remain low, with 26 reported nationwide on Tuesday. “The pressure on our hospitals, especially our intensive care units is declining and is another signal that we can soon relax some bio security protocols.”
In a Wednesday interview, President Guillermo Lasso supported Garzón’s assessment, saying he is “very eager to return to normal life in Ecuador.” He said that the National Committee of Emergency Operations (COE) has already reduced many restrictions and that more will be reduced or eliminated in the coming weeks. “One of my biggest priorities today is to see the country’s social and economic life return to conditions we had before the pandemic,” he said.
Following the comments by Garzón and Lasso, some doctors and health professionals urged caution. “The message the government is sending that the pandemic will end soon is dangerous and incorrect,” says Quito epidemiologist Andrea Gómez. “This will lead to the public relaxing its attention to the virus and could mean a reversal in the current trend. I don’t think any rule should be relaxed until at least May.
She added that Ecuador should not follow guidance from Europe in making Covid-19 decisions. “I am aware that masking, capacity limits and vaccine mandates are ending in some European countries but these are areas with much greater health care capacity than we have. If there is a new surge, they can react quickly to accommodate the sick. We cannot.”
Guayaquil hospital administrator Marcelo Aguilar agrees with Gómez that government announcements about reducing biosecurity measures is premature. “We need to be careful in what we say to the public,” he says. “Yes, it is foreseeable that by March and April we will have a much lower transmission situation and that pandemic status will be downgraded to epidemic but this does not mean we should roll back our rules. I think we should wait two to three months beyond that point before we issue the ‘all clear’ signal.”