As the national Emergency Operations Committee deliberated Monday on new pandemic restrictions, the group’s president warned against panic. “I am seeing wild speculation, especially on social media, about what we are planning and I caution people not to believe everything they read and see,” says Juan Zapata.
The COE met twice Monday to consider new measures to combat a recent rise in Covid-19 cases and a lack of hospital intensive care capacity. It will forward its recommendations to President Lenin Moreno who is expected to declare a new state of emergency.
“We are not looking at repeating the quarantine situation we had a year ago but we must adopt new rules to protect the public against the spike in cases and the emergence of new virus variants,” Zapata said following a morning meeting.
Zapata said there is no deadline for the COE to make its recommendations and said the public will receive advance notice of new restrictions before they go into effect.
On Saturday, Zapata said new restrictions would apply to private and public transportation, personal mobility and to businesses that interact directly with the public. He also said that the COE would recommend extended curfews, adding that it has not yet been determined if a new emergency declaration would apply nationwide or only to the 11 largest provinces, including Guayas, Pichincha, Manabi and Azuay.
Several business organizations warned of the impact of new restrictions on Monday. “Our members would be devastated if the government orders new closures or reduces operational hours,” a spokesman for the National Restaurant and Bar Association said. “We have lost more than 20 percent of our members over the last year and laid off thousands of employees and we ask the government to consider very carefully the effect another lockdown will have,” he said.
In radio interview in Guayaquil, the former president of the Ecuador Hotel Association criticized the COE and Health Ministry for “for creating unnecessary hysteria” about the Covid threat. “We all understand the precautions we should take to protect ourselves and the public but the official response has been to scare people into thinking the situation is much worse than it is,” says Paul Maldonado. “This hysteria has cost the hospitality and tourism industries billions of dollars and has bankrupted many businesses. At this point we urge the government to tone down the rhetoric and understand the damage it will cause if it imposes new restrictions.”
A former hospital administrator also criticized the government for it failure to provide additional hospital capacity to handle the pandemic. “We are more than a year into the health emergency and the government has added dozens of hospital beds when we need hundreds,” said Carlos Miller in a television interview. “They saw the situation developing and did very little to plan for the number of cases we are experiencing today. There is no justification for this since other countries responded early to increase capacity in total beds and ICU units.”
Miller, who managed both public and private hospitals, claims the public is getting an unrealistic view of the health care crisis. “The news media tells us that the system is collapsing, suggesting that the pandemic is worse than it actually is, he says. “What people don’t hear is that Ecuador has less than half the hospital capacity of Colombia and Argentina and Chile. Our case count is not the problem. A lack of foresight and planning is.”