For the first time in almost two years, Ecuadorians are allowed to go maskless. The national Emergency Operations Committee and President Guillermo Lasso announced Thursday that, effective immediately, face masks are no longer required except in hospitals and health clinics.
COE President Juan Zapata said the new rule applies nationwide.
“We are pleased to take this step as a result of improving Covid-19 health conditions,” Health Minister Ximena Garzón said at a Thursday press conference. “Thankfully, we have reached the point where we have no Covid patients in our intensive care units and very few patients are hospitalized with the virus.”
She added that the number of deaths in the country has returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Garzón said that the positivity rate of Covid tests has remained at four percent for antigen tests and five percent for PCR tests since early April. “We have achieved our goal of protecting the people of Ecuador through a successful regimen of health safety protocols and a vaccination program that has reached 83 percent of the population.”
Garzón cautioned that individuals should continue to observe “common sense” health measures since Covid cases are still being recorded. “The pandemic is not yet over and vulnerable people should continue to use care when they are in public areas,” she said. “We will continue to monitor World Health Organization recommendations. The pandemic will not be officially over until the WHO tells us it is.”
Following the press conference, the COE issued a “clarification” statement recommending that those with respiratory illness symptoms and those with immunocompromised conditions continue to wear masks. It also recommended that passengers of public transportation systems, including air travelers, wear masks.
Thursday night, the city of Quito issued a statement that the mask mandate remains in effect in the city, appearing to contradict the national COE order. “Because of conditions unique to our area we are not rescinding the mandate and it remains in effect,” the statement said. It cited the fact that the number of positive Covid tests has risen in the city since mid-April.”
Not everyone agreed with the government’s decision. José Pazmiño, president of the Azuay College of Physicians, Tweeted that elimination of masking is “premature” and said Ecuador should follow the guidance of countries such as China. “This is still a very dangerous virus and it continues to circulate,” he said. “I think the rules should remain until we have a clearer picture of the long-term effects of the disease.”