President Lenín Moreno says he is frustrated that only three of the country’s 221 cantons have opted to relax Covid-19 restrictions beginning today. Last week, all cantons continued the health emergency lockdown.
“I am frustrated that more municipalities [cantons] have not voted to move from red light to yellow light conditions,” Moreno said Friday. “We are leaving the decision in the hands of local governments but we expect them to understand the urgency of resuming normal life under safe conditions.”
The Emergency Operations Committees (COE) of Palora and Santiago Mendez, in Morona Santiago Province, southwest of Cuenca, voted Thursday to relax some restrictions on human and vehicular mobility while Daule, in Guayas Province, made the decision on Friday. Daule was one of the areas hardest-hit by the coronavirus in April but has since seen the rate of new infections and deaths drop dramatically. Palora and Santiago Mendez have recorded few Covid-19 cases and no deaths.
Moreno said that the “normalization” process to restore economic activity must begin immediately. “To the mayors of Ecuador, I say we must consider the disruption and damage that the pandemic response has inflicted on our lives and ask that you consider this cost when making decisions on quarantine issues. We must make changes deliberately with the health of citizens being foremost in consideration but we must balance the needs for normalcy.”
In April, the government granted municipalities the right to make decisions about restrictions in their cantons. Decisions are made by local COEs, which are made up of health professionals, elected officials and civic leaders in each community.
The president said that broad-spectrum testing for the Covid-19 virus is underway throughout the country and will provide local leaders more information in making decisions. “We are slightly behind in our community testing program but we are working to catch up and will make information available as it becomes available.”
Local COE members have complained that the so-called “quick tests” are not accurate. “Twenty to twenty-five percent of these tests return false results so we must rely on other information to make our decisions,” said one unnamed COE committee member in Cuenca.
Cuenca’s COE voted Friday to continue all mobility restrictions for another week.
In Quito, Mayor Jorge Yunda said it was too early to reduce restrictions, saying that new case counts were still rising in many locations. “We are not ready yet to make changes,” he said. “The testing has been insufficient to give us a clear vision of the health situation and we will continue quarantines and curfews until we are confident of improvement.
Yunda, who was educated as a surgeon, said the local COE is considering a number of options including allowing those under 40 to resume regular activities and to return to work. “This plan is based on a health risk assessment of various age groups and would concentrate on protecting vulnerable groups, especially the elderly.”
In Guayaquil, Mayor Cynthia Viteri says she worries about a “second wave” of Covid-19. “We are not yet in a position to return to normal routines,” she said. An estimated 8,000 to 9,000 have died of the virus in Guayas Province.
Avianca files for bankruptcy
Colombian airline Avianca has filed for bankruptcy in the United States and several Latin American and European countries. The airline, the world’s second oldest, says the move is intended to preserve assets and some operations during the remainder of the Covid-19 crisis. The airline, which was in financial difficulty before the crisis began, has furloughed most of its 21,000 employees. More than 90 percent of countries that the airline serves have closed their airports to international and national air travel.
Parks and green space maintenance resumes in Cuenca
Workers of the Municipal Public Cleaning Company (EMAC) will return to work today to clean up city parks and green areas. All maintenance of public areas has been suspended since March 16. EMAC officials say it will take several weeks to restore green areas to pre-health emergency conditions. “We have fallen trees to remove, grass to cut and gardens to restore and this will be done in stages. In addition, the linear parks beside the rivers suffered severe damage during last week’s flooding and this requires restoration,” EMAC said in a statement. It added that many parks will open to the public May 18.