The 30-day state of emergency declared Monday by President Lenín Moreno is being met with anger and disbelief in the business community and could face a serious legal challenge in court.
Moreno’s order is a response to the threat of a new variation of the Covid-19 virus and concerns about the spread of the virus during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The order went into effect at 10 p.m. Monday night with a nationwide curfew extending to 4 a.m.
In addition to the curfew, Moreno ordered a prohibition on liquor sales during the hours of the curfew; restrictions on motor vehicle circulation; an 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. shopping and dining hours with indoor capacity limited to 50 percent for stores and 30 percent for restaurants; the closure of all educational facilities on December 24 and 25 and on December 31 and January 1; the closure of all bars and nightclubs; the closure of all beaches; a 10-person limit on social gatherings; and a prohibition of the burning of New Year’s puppets.
Private vehicles with license plates ending in an odd number are allowed to circulate on Monday, Wednesday and Friday while vehicles with plates ending in even numbers can circulate on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
According to the emergency order, the 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew as well as the prohibition of liquor sales during curfew hours will expire in 15 days.
Following the president’s Monday order, business and tourism organizations attacked the move as “draconian”, “knee-jerk,” and “unnecessary.” A number of elected officials and legal experts also questioned the legality of the declaration.
Restaurant, hotel and bar associations in Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil reacted with anger at the new restrictions, saying they could put many of their members out of business. “We consider the president’s action rash and unwise and not justified by current conditions in Ecuador,” a spokesman for the Quito restaurant owners’ association said. “We have no proof that the new virus is any more dangerous than the current one, which appears to be under control.”
Reaction was particularly intense on the coast, where beaches have been ordered closed to the public for the holidays. “We are in shock because of this action,” says Carlos Abad, president of the Provincial Chamber of Tourism of Santa Elena. “We have suffered terribly because of the pandemic and have only recently begun to recover. Businesses on the beaches have made major investments and improvements to prepare for the holidays and were hoping to recoup some of the losses from the past year.”
He added that coastal hotels were seeing the strongest bookings since February in anticipation of the holidays. “And now we have to cancel the reservations. This is a real killer for those of us in the tourist business and I don’t see how we can survive it.”
Some business and legal experts say the emergency order could be overturned by the Constitutional Court. Quito attorney André Benavides believes Moreno’s reason for the order will not stand a legal review, which is required to validate national emergency declarations. “The court made it clear in August that it would not grant an extension of the declaration then and recognized the need for a return to a level of normalcy to provide employment and business opportunities to the population,” he said.
Benavides adds that state of emergency must also receive approval from the National Assembly where objections were growing Monday afternoon.
Even some medical officials are questioning the basis for the new order. Paúl Cárdenas, professor of microbiology and researcher at the San Francisco de Quito University, says it is too early to know the true threat from the Covid-19 variation in Great Britain. “This may be more serious than others but we are discovering variants in the virus every day,” he says. “I would suggest that we will know much more in a matter or weeks, possibly days, and that will be the time to act if any action is necessary.”
Cárdenas added that the number of Covid-19 cases in Ecuador has been dropping steadily since the peak in July and August.
Researchers in Britain and Europe say the new strain of Covid-19 — called VUI – 202012/01 — is known to spread much more rapidly than earlier versions of virus but they do not believe it produces more severe infections. They also say they believe the vaccinations against the virus being delivered around the world will be effective against the new strain.
Ecuador’s new restrictions follow those imposed in dozens of other countries on Sunday and Monday following the discovery of the new rapid-spreading strain of Covid-19 in Great Britain that has since been found in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Australia and South Africa. In Latin America, Peru, Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay also announced new health restrictions Monday morning, including a prohibition on travel to and from the UK and European Union.
Ecuador’s state of emergency does not include a prohibition on flights but does impose new rules for travelers arriving from the UK, South Africa, Australia and countries in the European Union.