City and health officials in Cuenca and Quito blasted the national government on Wednesday for not allowing an extended nighttime curfew and a ban on the sale of alcohol. “We have been waiting for almost two weeks for the national Emergency Operations Committee (COE) to allow us to make the changes and have not received an answer,” Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios said.
On Thursday morning, the government finally responded to Cuenca, denying its request for a rules modification.
Administrators at the public hospitals in Cuenca and Quito report that all intensive care beds are occupied and that patient care will suffer if measures are not taken to slow the increase of new Covid-19 cases. “We are at maximum capacity as a result of the pandemic and have nowhere to put additional patients,” said Jorge Medina, assistant director of Quito’s IESS hospital. “We fully support our local leaders in demanding the government allow us to take the steps to protect the health of our citizens.”
Under national health emergency rules, municipal COEs are allowed to determine the “traffic light” designation of their cities but must ask permission from the national COE to make changes within the designations. Cuenca and Quito are under yellow light conditions but want to modify national rules to begin the nightly curfew at 7 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages and to reduce the size of gatherings.
The national COE denied Quito’s request three weeks ago and has not responded to Cuenca’s. “If we don’t get the permission we request, Quito and Cuenca may return to red light soon,” said a member of the Quito COE who asked not to be identified. “We prefer to stay yellow with the modifications because returning to red would be devastating for the economy but we have no choice but to put the health of our people first.”
In Cuenca’s case, Palacios suggested that the silence of the government’s slow response is insulting. “We are the ones who know what’s going on in our community,” he said in a radio interview. “We know the problems we face with alcohol consumption and unauthorized public gatherings. Most of all, we know the situation at our hospitals and that we are over capacity to handle the growing number of coronavirus patients. We need to be allowed to make the best decisions on a local basis, not beg Quito for permission.”
On Thursday he added: “Now that they have finally denied our recommendation, we must look for other solutions and one of them is returning to red.”
In last Friday’s Cuenca COE meeting, some committee members suggested that the national government seems more interested in protecting the liquor and restaurant industries than the health of Ecuadorians.