Moreno says Covid-19 case number has peaked; Hospital refuses to release body until bill is paid; Business leader warns of bankruptcies

May 1, 2020 | 49 comments

President Lenin Moreno said Thursday that the number of coronavirus cases in Ecuador has “reached a plateau” and will begin declining within a matter of days. “This conclusion draws on a broad base of evidence and the country’s top health professionals are in agreement,” he said.

A Cuenca health care worker preparing to administer Covid-19 tests on Tuesday. (El Tiempo)

Moreno said his assessment was based on officially confirmed cases and deaths, hospital admissions and discharges, number of patients requiring intensive care, 911 emergency calls and field reports from health care workers. He conceded that the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases is far below the actual numbers. “We have only to look at the situation of Guayas Province to see the discrepancy since we have officially recorded only a few hundred deaths when, in fact, it is clear that there are thousands.”

Based on official death records, health officials believe as many as 8,000 may have died of coronavirus in the province.

Moreno said that the epidemic in Guayas Province is well past its peak. “The deaths there were more than 600 a day in early April and have returned to normal levels today of 60 to 70,” he said.

Ecuador Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos, who consulted with Moreno Thursday morning, believes that as much as 30 percent of the population of Guayas Province has been infected with Covid-19. “We are on our way to building herd immunity in that region,” he said. “The rest of the country is several weeks behind,” he said.

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Zevallos has predicted that 60 percent of Ecuador’s population will be infected by the end of June.

Virus update

Hospital won’t release body until bill is paid
A Guayaquil hospital is refusing to release the body of woman believed to have died of Covid-19 until her $68,000 bill is paid. According to her son, Marianita de Jesús Flores was an emergency admission to the unnamed hospital on March 18.

“She was having severe difficulty breathing and had a high fever when she was delivered by ambulance,” according to José Varas, adding that the Social Security (IESS) hospital, where he would have preferred to take his mother, was too far away. “She is a IESS member,” Varas said.

When the funeral home hired by Varas went to the hospital on Tuesday to pick up the body, the hospital administrator refused to deliver it until the invoice for her care was paid. Varas’ attorney claims, that under Ecuadorian law, members of the Social Security system can seek emergency care at private hosptials with costs being reimbursed by the government. The hospital says, however, that it is owed “hundreds of thousands of dollars” by the government and will not bear further expenses.

Varas and his family have filed a suit in Guayaquil court for the return of the body. “This is a problem between the hospital and the government that should be handled separately,” he says. “My mother’s remains should not be held hostage.”

Cuenca businesses fear bankruptcies, high unemployment
Jaime Moreno, president of the Cuenca Chamber of Commerce, says that the Covid-19 health emergency will send hundreds, maybe thousands, of local businesses into bankruptcy and leave tens-of-thousands unemployed. “We have never seen anything like this disaster and because there is no end in sight we cannot calculate the ultimate damage it will inflict,” he said.

Among the businesses under the greatest threat, he said, were restaurants, hotels and hostals and other tourism-related enterprises. “They need immediate funding and access to low interest loans so they can continue to pay employees and other operating expenses,” he said. “Unfortunately, many businesses are reaching their financial limit.”

Of of Cuenca’s 15,000 registered businesses, Moreno estimates that a third could go bankrupt by the end of May without assistance. “We are looking at 40,000 to 50,000 unemployed and this is bedsides those already without jobs.”

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