Health minister says Covid-19 cases peaking in Guayaquil but not in the rest of the country

Apr 23, 2020 | 29 comments

Minister of Health Juan Carlos Zevallos said Wednesday that the Covid-19 outbreak in Guayas Province has peaked. At the same time, he said that the spread of the virus continues in most of the country and that it will be days, maybe weeks, before the “curve begins to flatten.”

Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri toured neighborhoods hard-hit by the coronavirus on Wednesday. (El Universo)

“The virus arrived earlier in Guayaquil and Guayas Province so it is understandable that it would reach peak numbers there first,” Zevallos said Wednesday during a virtual press briefing. “The rest of the country lags and we are still concerned about several hotspots, including Quito.”

The health minister acknowledged that his previous prediction that the virus would peak last week or this was premature. “We have a ways to go before that happens,” he said. “Emergency restrictions on personal mobility will need to remain in place until then.”

In claiming that the Guayas Province outbreak has peaked, Zevallos said he is using data from a variety of sources, not just the government’s count of confirmed cases, which passed the 7,000 mark Wednesday. “We are considering hospital admissions and discharges, 911 and 171 emergency calls as well as recent testing in specific neighborhoods,” he said. He acknowledged that official numbers have detected only a small percentage of the total cases.

Based on death certificates issued by the civil registry office, more than 5,000 deaths recorded in the first two weeks of April could be the result of Covid-19. On Wednesday, Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri said as many as 8,000 may have died from the virus since early March. “It’s like the Hiroshima bomb was dropped on Guayaquil,” she said during a tour of hard-hit areas of the city.

Based on the death count, several private health professionals believe there are probably more than a 100,000 total infections in the province. “We know there are thousands and thousands of cases,” Zevallos conceded, adding that the number of asympotomatic cases and cases with very mild symptoms were higher than expected in targetted testing.

Also on Wednesday, Zevallos said that public and private labs are catching up with the backlog of unprocessed tests.

He said a total of 34,840 tests have been taken in the country since late February, with 10,850 proving positive. “We are awaiting the result of 13,233 tests and should have this within a few days. We now have 57 private labs working with public labs to process the tests and we have the reagents necessary to do it,” he said. “The backlog of unprocessed tests was due to missing materials and limited lab facilities but we are overcoming this.”

Completing his first month on the job after replacing Catalina Andramuño as health minister, Zevallos said “reaching the epidemiological plateau” in Guayas Province is reassuring. “We have a long way to go before we can say the current outbreak is over and we know there will be a long way to go afterward but we are seeing progress.”

He said the ministry’s short-term goal is to administer Covid-19 “quick tests” to six percent of the population. “These are broad-spectrum tests that will detect asymptomatic cases as well as symptomatic ones and will give us an accurate view of infection in the country. These tests are already underway.”

In earlier comments, Zevallos said that as many as 80 percent of Ecuadorians will be infected with the virus before a vaccine is widely available.

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