It’s ‘business as usual’ in parts of Cuenca; Malls will reopen at 30% capacity; Fuel subsidies to end by May 31; Covid-19 could be here to stay

May 14, 2020 | 76 comments

Crowds and merchants at the 9 de Octubre Civic Plaza on Tuesday. (El Tiempo)

Although much of it is technically illegal under health emergency restrictions, public market areas of Cuenca have reopened for business.

“We don’t have the personnel to enforce all the rules,” says a member of the city’s Citizen Guard who asked not to be identified. “The people are desperate and need to go back to work. We look for flagrant violations and participate in targeted assignments but otherwise our job is the same as usual, to keep the peace.”

A survey of the areas near the 10 de Agosto market on Calle Larga and the 9 de Octubre  market at Civic Plaza on Wednesday found dozens of businesses not considered “essential” open for business, including beauty parlors, clothing, computer and jewelry shops. Many of them had their storefront shutters half-way open but others were open entirely.

According to University of Cuenca psychology professor Carlos Vera, there are reasons besides business that prompt shop openings and gatherings on the street. “Human beings are social animals and being locked away in our houses is a social hardship,” he says. “People understand the danger of the virus, and many of us have family and friends who have suffered from it, but it is natural to want to interact with others.”

One shop owner across from the 9 de Octubre market said his family would go hungry if he did not reopen. “I’ve been closed for two months and can’t go on like this,” said Fausto, who said he was happy to see his friends and customers again. “I follow all the rules with the mask and not hugging and kissing but I have to work and have to serve my  customers.”

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He added that one of his aunts in Guayaquil died last month from Covid-19. “I do not say this is not a dangerous disease since I know it personally, but I have to put my family ahead of the rules.”

In addition to established businesses reopening, dozens of produce sellers have rented doorfronts in the historic district. According to police, these are legal even though they are informal since they sell food products.

Virus update

Fuel subsidies will end by May 31
The government said Wednesday it plans to eliminate the subsidies on gasoline and diesel fuel by the end of the month. According to Energy Minister René Ortiz, the price at the pump will be based on the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) benchmark and will be adjusted monthly. He says prices in Ecuador will drop when the new system goes into effect since current pricing was calculated on the $59 per barrel market price in January. WTI closed Wednesday at $25.98. Ortiz says he is aware of protest threats over the change but asks, “Who’s going to complain about lower prices?”

Shopping mall capacity will be 30%
Ecuador’s Emergency Operations Committee decided Wednesday that shopping malls will be allowed to open at 30 percent their legal capacity due to the threat of the coronavirus. The COE will announce later this week seating restrictions for sporting events and concerts.

Covid-19 could be here to stay
The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the Covid-19 virus will probably become endemic in the human population. “We are many months away from a vaccination against it and it is possible we will never have one that is more than 50 percent effective,” WHO Health Emergency Operations Director Mike Ryan said. “We must prepare to live with it like we do with HIV and common strains of influenza.”

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