Only hours before she discovered she had tested positive for the coronavirus, Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri prevented two European charter jets from landing at Guayaquil’s José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport.
The Iberian and KLM aircraft were scheduled to transport Spanish and Dutch nationals back to Europe. The jets diverted to Quito, where other passengers were waiting for the flight home.
Ecuador’s attorney general’s office said it was investigating the incident and Viteri could be subject to arrest. “The aircraft were arriving in Ecuador for the sole purpose of flying European nationals back to their home countries and the flights had been cleared by the government,” the attorney general’s office said. “We do not yet understand what motivated the municipal government to block the landings but we consider it a serious breach of the law.”
Ecuador had banned all incoming international flights into the country due to the coronavirus but was allowing outgoing flights.
Viteri admits she ordered city vehicles onto the airport runway to block the landings and says she would do it again. “I assume complete responsibility for sending the vehicles onto the runway to prevent the 11 passengers who may have been infected with the coronavirus from arriving in Guayaquil,” she said. “I did this for the safety of the people of Guayaquil who I was elected to protect.”
The eleven passengers Viteri referred were, in fact, the crew of the aircraft and, according to the prosecutor, they did not plan to leave the aircraft.
The Spanish and Dutch travelers who had gathered at the Guayaquil airport to board the flights were told to leave the terminal by airport officials.
On Thursday morning, a tearful Viteri annouced via a Skype video connection from her home that she had contracted Covid-19. She said her symptoms were mild but that she would continue to perform her mayoral duties in quarantine.
The European Union filed a formal complaint with Ecuador’s foreign ministry on Thursday regarding the Guayaquil airport incident.
Thousands try to leave Ecuador while thousands more want to return
Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner says there are thousands of foreign travelers in Ecuador who want to return to their home countries and just as many Ecuadorians who want to return to Ecuador. “Because of the Covid-19 pandemic there are many, many people stranded in foreign countries around the world,” said. “Because airports and borders are closed in many countries, including Ecuador, visitors face great difficulty finding transportation home.” Among the Ecuadorians stranded overseas are Sonnenholzner’s father, aunt and two cousins. The vice president said Ecuador is working with several foreign airlines that are considering sending charter flights to Quito and Guayaquil to pick up foreign nationals. “Groups of U.S. and Canadian citizens will soon have charters to take them home and other airlines and governments are also making plans,” he said. In addition, talks are underway with LatAm and other airlines airlines to bring Ecuadorians home from the U.S., Canada, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Chile, Brazil and several European countries.
Ecuador Covid-19 count continues to rise
Risk Management Secretary Alexandra Ocles reported Thursday morning that Ecuador has 199 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus, an increase of 44 from Wednesday. Guayas Province has the most cases with 157 followed by Pichincha with 12, Los Ríos with 10, Manabí with eight, Azuay with seven, Bolívar with two and El Oro, Sucumbíos and Morona Santiago with one each. In addition, Ocles said that 575 people are under observation and quarantine for the virus.
Police and military clear the beaches
Police and military personnel were deployed from Esmeraldas in the north to Salinas in the south Thursday morning to clear the beaches of surfers and sunbathers. Although beaches were mostly clear, officials ordered surfers and swimmers to leave several locations, including Puerto Cayo and Olon. “The emergency order to remain indoors applies to the entire country, including the beaches,” the National Police said in press release. “We will warn those who do not follow the order but they will be subject to arrest on subsequent occasions.”