Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner announced Saturday new government assistance to help Guayaquil weather the coronavirus outbreak. “As of Monday, we are sending 1,500 hospital beds to the city as well as large deliveries of personal protective gear, hospital equipment and medicine,” he said. In addition, he said “a large number” of public health doctors and nurses are being reassigned to Guayaquil and Guayas Province.
“Guayaquil needs our help and the government will provide it to the best of our ability,” the vice president said. Of Ecuador’s 3,456 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 2,402 were in Guayas Province as of Saturday afternoon.
Sonnenholnzer offered an apology to the people of Guayaquil for the government’s late response, saying the pandemic has created a great deal of confusion and fear among all of the country’s institution. “In particular, I apologize to those who have lost family members and friends to the virus as well as other causes in recent days and I regret the pain and humiliation many have experienced by the difficulty in transporting the bodies of the dead to funeral homes and cemeteries,” he said. “That situation has greatly improved since early in the week and we are working hard to avoid a repeat of it.”
Sonnenholnzer also regretted the “deterioration” of Ecuador’s reputation due to international news reports of the Guayaquil epidemic. Such media at the Guardian, CNN and the Washington Post have posted articles about bodies on the sidewalks of Guayaquil due to the lack of funeral home services. “The images are very troubling for all of us and I can’t imagine the pain they bring to the families of the deceased,” he said.
Repeating criticism of the news media lodged Friday by Foreign Minister José Valencia, Sonnenholnzer said the number of uncollected bodies in Guayaquil has been greatly exaggerated. “From a dozen cases, the newspapers and tv channels turned it into hundreds, which is dishonest and unfair,” he said, adding that now is not the time to fight a public relations war. “Sensationalism always carries the day with the media and there is little we can do about it.”
Guayas Province Governor Pedro Pablo Duart offered what he called “clarification” to Guayaquil’s body crisis. “It is important to understand that what happened would not have been news, even in Ecuador, under normal circumstances,” he said. “The city’s death rate has increased 20 to 25 percent over the past 10 days, which could have been handled easily by the funeral homes. During the health emergency, however, more than 80 percent of the funeral businesses in Guayas Province are not operating, which has forced us to ask the military to assume the job of removing, storing and burying bodies.”
Duart added that the health ministry estimates that about 20 percent of recent deaths in Guayaquil are the result of Covid-19 infections, despite the fact that few of the dead have been tested.
Cuenca fire fighters reprimanded for partying after curfew
Cuenca Fire Chief Chief Patrick Lucero has apologized to the public for the behavior of two firefighters who violated the national curfew Friday night. One of the men recorded a video of the incident which appears to show several young North American and European women partying in an empty El Centro street with his partner. The chief said the firefighters are being penalized and that there will not be a repeat of their actions.
Feria Libre market shuts down
Cuenca’s largest community market, El Arenal –commonly known as Feria Libre– will be closed for five days and maybe longer. Marcelo Álvarez, director of city markets, said the action was taken due to widespread violations of restrictions on businesses and social distancing orders. “There was a lack of cooperation with the health emergency requirements by both vendors and customers and in the interest of public safety we are closing the market from Monday, April 6 through Friday, April 10.” He said the closure could be extended depending on circumstances he did not describe. The market will undergo a deep cleaning and fumigation during the closure, Álvarez said.
Saturday Covid-19 numbers
The government reported 97 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, bringing Ecuador’s total in 3,465. The increase was the smallest in five days. The death count now stands at 172 confirmed, although another 146 deaths showed virus-like symptoms. In addition, 527 virus patients are hospitalized while 2,666 are being monitored, according to the health ministry.
Guayas Province maintains the highest number of cases in the country, at 69 percent of the total, with 75 percent of those in Guayaquil.
By province, Saturday’s case totals are: Guayas, 2,402; Pichincha, 321; Los Ríos, 153; Azuay, 99; Manabi, 71; El Oro, 56; Canar, 56; Santa Elena, 48; Loja, 27; Bolívar, 26; Chimborazo, 25; Imbabura, 20; Esmeraldas, 14; Tungurahua, 22; Galapagos, 19; Cotopaxi, 16; Pastaza and Carchi, 9; Zamora Chinchipe, 2; Napo and Orellana, two each.