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IESS health service faces financial crisis; More Cuenca cars impounded; Guayaquil eases restrictions; Labor protests spread

The coronavirus health emergency is putting “catastrophic strain” on Ecuador’s largest provider of health care, the Social Security (IESS) system. According to unnamed officials, the system faces collapse without a substantial infusion of funds.

IESS headquarters in Quito.

Monthly contributions from IESS members and their employers has dropped by about $100 million a month and is expected to drop further, according to system administrators as the Covid-19 crisis continues. Complicating the financial shortfall, the government is late in its monthly contribution to the system. “We are months, possibly weeks, away from not being able to provide basic services,” one hospital administrator said Monday.

As the result of high numbers of Covid-19 cases, IESS hospitals and clinics have been deferring treatment to patients with other health conditions and, in many cases, putting their lives at risk, according to doctors. The practice of referring some patients to private health services has also been disrupted because of the funding crisis. “The government is months behind in paying private providers so they are reluctant to accept IESS referrrals,” the administrator says.

According to the IESS comptroller’s office, the retirement and health systems needs $430 million a month to maintain liquidity and current income is less than $300 million. The IESS affiliate bank, BIESS, which, in the past, has provided loans to the health service, is also running low on reserves. “BIESS currently has reserves of $474 million, its lowest level in years,” says the unnamed administrator, who adds that the bank is also having difficulty providing low interest mortages to members, which is its primary function.

Last month, BIESS reported that more than 25,000 members were delinquent in their loan payments due the health emergency.

Virus update

Cuenca records largest one-day total in confiscated vehicles
The Cuenca transportation department says it impounded 53 cars and trucks and 11 motorcycles on Monday, the largest single day total since driving restrictions went into effect March 17. In addition, more than 100 drivers were ticketed but allowed to drive home. Since the beginning of enforcement, 4,792 Cuenca drivers have been sanctioned and 1,798 vehicles have been impounded.

A truck is impounded Monday on Calle Larga. (El Tiempo)

Guayaquil goes from ‘red’ to ‘yellow’ light
Beginning Wednesday, health emergency restrictions in Guayaquil will transition from red light to yellow light status. Among other things, the change allows more businesses to open, extends curfew hours and allows drivers a second day a week of driving privileges. “We have suffered terribly in Guayaquil but our hospital capacity has finally returned to normal and the rate of new Covid-19 infections has gone down,” said Mayor Cynthia Viteri. Estimates of deaths associated with the virus range from 9,000 to 11,500 in Guayaquil and health officials say the true number will never be known. Viteri says restrictions will remain for restaurants, bars, parks and movie theaters and warned that red light restrictions could be reimposed if the number of infections increase.

Labor unions protest Humanitarian Law
Hundreds of labor protesters denounced the Humanitarian Law passed last week by the National Assembly at government buildings in Quito, Cuenca, Guayaquil and Loja on Monday. The United Workers Front is claiming that provisions of the law granting more authority to employers are unconstitutional. They are demanding that President Lenin Moreno veto measures that would allow employers to reduce hours and pay and dictate when employees can take vacations.