How will Ecuador reopen from the Covid-19 lockdown? VP tours local hospitals and says they are well-prepared; Testing backlog

Apr 15, 2020 | 12 comments

As Ecuador completes its first month of the Covid-19 lockdown, the government is beginning discussions about how to reopen the country once the number of new cases begins to decline.

Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner checks supplies at a Cuenca hospital on Tuesday. (El Tiempo)

“It will be gradual and it will be by geographic location,” Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner said Tuesday morning in an interview on a Cuenca radio station. “Because of the distribution of virus cases, we cannot issue a nationwide ‘all-clear.’ Besides considering how the disease affects particular regions, we will focus on protecting vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, the disabled and those with other health problems.”

Sonnenholzner said the traffic light system initiated this week will determine which restrictions on personal movement will be relaxed in each province and possibly in each municipality. “If we feel the danger is low in an area, we might reduce the hours of curfew or add additional driving days for vehicle owners. We will also allow some businesses to reopen.”

He said the traffic light is red this week, meaning that all restrictions remain in place for the entire country.

In Cuenca to meet with city and provincial officials on Tuesday, the vice president said that there could be long-term social distancing restrictions and special rules for those considered at high risk. “I think some social distancing will be required for weeks, maybe months, and we are focusing on how to protect the elderly. As people go back to work, we will consider who is allowed in the workplace considering their vulnerability. One idea under discussion is to allow only those age 50 or younger to reenter the workface at the beginning. We could also restrict public transportation ridership to people under 50.”

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Sonnenholzner cautioned that no decisions have yet been made. “Everything is in the talking stage and we understand that there will be exceptions for many of the rules.” He added that restrictions in larger cities, such as Guayaquil, Quito, Cuenca and Riobamba, will probably be relaxed later than in smaller communities.

According to Sonnenholzner and Minister of Health Juan Carlos Zevallos, all decision about reopening the country will be based on advice from health experts, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Zevallos worked with the CDC in Atlanta for 10 years.

As part of the plan to reopen the economy, the government said Tuesday that it is in discussions with businesses and labor groups. Finance Minister Richard Martínez said the purpose of the talks it to preserve employment but also help businesses survive the shutdown. “We understand that suspending business activity damages liquidity and the ability of companies to pay salaries so we are looking for arrangements that allow working hours and pay to be reduced in the short-term before a full resumption of activity can begin. We are hopeful that the restriction on work hours will not continue beyond May.”

Virus update

Vice president tours local hospitals
Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner said Tuesday that the public hospitals and clinics in Azuay and Cañar Provinces are well-prepared for the Covid-19 virus pandemic. His comments followed a tour of health facilities in Cuenca and Azoguez. “The facilities are well-stocked with supplies and there is extra capacity to accommodate patients and it is encouraging the the number of discharged patients exceeds the number of admissions in some cases,” he said.

Testing backlog will send case count higher
Interior Minister María Paula Romo said Tuesday that there are two to three thousand unprocessed Covid-19 tests in labs in Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca. “The delay is a problem for analyzing the spread of the virus but we hope to have results this week,” she said. “Once we receive the results, the number of cases will rise dramatically but it will not change our appraisal, based on hospital admissions and discharges, that we are near the peak in cases.”

Tuesday Covid-19 case count
The Health Ministry reported 74 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, bringing total cases in the country to 7,603. The death toll rose to 436.

The confimed case count by province: Guayas, 5,417; Pichincha, 646; Los Ríos, 240; Manabi, 219 and Azuay, 192 cases (162 of them are in Cuenca).

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