More than 60 percent of Ecuadorians will be infected by the Covid-19 virus within 120 days, according to Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos. By October or November, he says, the total will reach 80 percent.
“These numbers are not meant to shock anyone but to provide a realistic view of what to expect as the disease plays out,” Zevallos said in one of two weekend broadcasts. “And these are not just Ecuador numbers, they are worldwide numbers.”
Educated as an infectious disease specialist in the U.S. and a former researcher for the Centers for Disease Control, Zevallos repeated an earlier comment about the purpose of emergency quarantine measures. “These were never intended to protect us from contracting the virus,” he said. “The intention was to temporarily slow the rate of infection so our health care system is not overwhelmed which, unfortunately, has happened in Italy, Spain and the U.S., as well as in Guayaquil. When the system is overwhelmed the death rate spikes much higher.”
Zevallos added that Ecuador’s official count of Covid-19 cases is far from the actual number. “We are probably well over a million and maybe in the multiple millions already, and this is positive given that the level of immunity is increasing rapidly,” he said. “The test results are still helpful since they represent a kind of control group of the sickest cases.”
“Based on all the data we are seeing, we are at or approaching the peak in the current outbreak, which means we can slowly begin to relax some restrictions,” he said. “We are well past the peak in Guayas Province but the rest of the country will need another week or two to arrive at that point.”
Zevallos said that the infections that continue after the peak will be manageable. “Although it will not be pleasant, it will not be brutal either since those who need medical care will be able to receive it. Recent data shows that as many 50 percent of the population will suffer only minor symptoms or no symptoms at all. The data also shows that the fatality rate is less than what we originally feared.”
A new series of testing that began last week is designed to provide a national overview of the spread of the virus, Zevallos said. “The program will be carried out in all of Ecuador’s 221 cantons and involves a cross-section of the population and will provide data that will guide local decisions.”
Also over the weekend, Juan Zapata, director of the country’s ECU911 system, said emergency calls have dropped dramatically in Guayas Province, especially calls requesting the pick up bodies.
“The situation with the death rate there has improved remarkably,” he said, “and the official daily number of deaths is less than 10 percent of those three weeks ago.” Civil registry death statistics show that the number of deaths in Guayas Province has fallen from a high of 677 on April 4 to only 56 on April 22. The 56 falls within the normal range for daily deaths in the province.
Local health officials estimate that as many as 8,000 have died of Covid-19 in Guayas Province since mid-March.
Zapata also said that the largest increase of emergency calls in April involves cases of domestic violence. “We expected this because people are confined together as a result of the emergency restrictions.”