President Lenín Moreno announced Sunday night that the national Emergency Operations Council will meet Monday to consider “rapidly developing events relating to the pandemic.” Although the statement from the president’s office offered no details, a spokesman said later that the meeting would focus on the emergence of a new strain of coronavirus in Europe and fears that Christmas and New Year’s gatherings will result in a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Earlier on Sunday, Minister of Health Juan Carlos Zevallos said the variant of the virus spreading through Great Britain and several European countries does not appear to be more deadly than earlier strains. “The problem is that it spreads much more rapidly and the infections could overwhelm hospitals and clinics,” he said.
He added that he expects the new strain to spread around the world. “We will see it in Ecuador and the rest of Latin America within a matter of weeks, possibly days.”
City steps up police patrols for the holidays
The Cuenca Risk Management office said Saturday that all legal measures will be taken to break up large gatherings over Christmas and New Year’s holidays. “Without a national state of emergency we cannot prevent the movement of residents or small gatherings of friends and family but we will do everything in our authority to stop the formation of large crowds,” said Froilán Salinas, city risk management director. “We will increase street patrols and strictly enforce the restriction on motor vehicles after 11 at night.”
Following complaints from local radio and television stations, Salinas said that patrols are closely monitoring crowds at San Francisco Plaza and other locations in the historic district. According to one radio station, “hundreds and probably thousands of people” are gathering every night near the Christmas tree on San Francisco Plaza. In a live report Saturday night, Radio Tomebamba, said that “massive crowds” filled the plaza, the Padre Aguirre pedestrian mall and the area around the flower market opposite the cathedral.
A reporter for the radio station said he counted “at least 50” food and crafts vendors working the plaza and said people are in “total disregard of social distancing rules.”
Salinas said that city and national police will monitor restaurants and stores during the holidays, making sure that 50 percent capacity rules are enforced for indoor areas. He also said that the prohibition of alcoholic beverage sales after 10 p.m. will be “strictly enforced.”
In a television interview Saturday, Ministry of Health regional director Julio Molina said it was not the government’s intention to “take the joy out of the holidays” but to protect the public health. “We are doing very well in containing the pandemic in Cuenca and we want to maintain the downward trend,” he said. “New cases have dropped by 70 percent since August due to biosecurity measures taken by the public and businesses. We have come a long way but we cannot relax our vigilance.”
One of Ecuador’s ‘most wanted’ captured near Cuenca
A special unit of the National Police arrested Arcelio Misacango González Saturday night near Molleturo, 25 miles west of Cuenca. Misacango was listed among Ecuador’s ten “most wanted” fugitives, suspected of a 2009 murder and dismemberment in Cuenca. He is also a suspect in five other murders and disappearances.
The arrest was made at a house party in the San Pedro de Yumate barrio of Molleturo following a brief shoot-out between the suspect and police. According to police, Misacango was wearing a bullet-proof vest and was in possession of a machine gun and two handguns.