Due to a rapid increase in cases of respiratory disease, the National Emergency Operations Committee has reinstated the mask mandate for enclosed areas, including public transportation. In Wednesday’s announcement, COE President Juan Zapata said the order is aimed at controlling the spread of seasonal flu as well as Covid-19.
“At this point, influenza is putting more strain on health resources than the coronavirus, which has become less severe over time,” he said. “The mask order is for enclosed areas and areas with poor ventilation, since this is where respiratory diseases spread most easily. This includes all public transportation, including buses.”
The national mask mandate was lifted in April, following a reduction in Covid-19 cases. “We regret that it must be partially reimposed but it is necessary for national health,” Zapata said.
Although they are not required outdoors, the COE said it recommends citizens wear masks at large public gatherings where they are in close proximity to other people.
Following Wednesday’s COE press conference, Minister of Health José Ruales called the current outbreak of acute respiratory diseases “intense,” acknowledging that some of the health precautions taken during the pandemic are partly to blame. “Measures required over the past three years to prevent the spread of Covid-19, such as isolation and personal distancing, have reduced the public’s exposure to pathogens that help strengthen the immune system. These measures were necessary but they have unintended consequences.”
According to Ruales, the increase in respiratory infections is straining the capacity of the country’s 19 largest public health hospitals. He added that IESS and private hospitals are also reporting increases in admissions from flu, particularly the AH3N2 variant, as well as from Covid-19 Omicron sub-variants.
The Health Ministry reports that 80% of admissions for respiratory illness are for flu but says Covid-19 continues to pose a threat. “The pandemic continues and because Covid cases are less severe than they once were does not mean we can let down our guard,” the Ministry said in a bulletin. In week 48 of 2022, 3,549 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed nationwide compared to 2,869 in week 45.
A large percentage of hospital admissions are of infants and children, Ruales said, mostly due to influenza infections.
The Ministry advises the population to conduct Covid-19 tests when respiratory illness symptoms are experienced and to self-isolate for five days if symptoms persist.