Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos delivered a sobering assessment of the rapidly spreading coronavirus epidemic in Ecuador on Wednesday afternoon. “I regret to say that, despite all our efforts, the virus curve continues to rise exponentially,” he said, noting that the total number of confirmed cases is well below the actual total. “There is significant under-reporting due to a lack of tests.”
Wednesday’s total of confirmed cases, 2,758, grew by 456 from Monday’s count.
Zevallos said he expects numbers to continue their rapid climb for several more days. “I don’t expect to see a peak in new cases until late next week but after that we can expect to see a flattening of the curve and then a downturn,” he said.
Ecuadorians should understand what to expect from Covid-19 in the weeks and months ahead, Zevallos said. “Researchers at Harvard University and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tell us that this terrible contagion will continue until there is a vaccine, which is probably 18 months away,” he said. “Thier models show that 60 percent of the world’s population will be infected with Covid-19 ” within about 120 days,” he said. In a social media post, he added that models indicate that 70 to 80 percent of those living in urban areas will ultimately be infected while 30 to 40 percent of rural residents will be.
“In Ecuador, our efforts to slow the spread will soon show positive results but it is important to understand that this doesn’t mean people will escape infection. Most of us will eventually contract the disease,” Zevallos said.
In an earlier press briefing, Deputy Health Minister Ernesto Carrasco said that Monday’s and Tuesday’s spike in new cases was not unexpected, since the lower counts from the weekend were the result of limited testing. “When you receive the results of more tests, you have more positives,” he said. He also said that the vast majority of the new cases were contracted before national stay-at-home rules went into effect. “Most of the cases we are reporting today and those we will report in the coming days were contracted two or three weeks ago and do not reflect the restrictions and curfew we are under today. We are on the path to recovery but we are not yet seeing the results of those efforts.”
Like Zevallos, Carrasco expects new cases to peak next week.
Carrasco says Ecuador’s testing program continues to face problems. “We have tens-of-thousands of new tests arriving but we just learned today that there is a shortage of the reagents needed to verify those tests,” he said. Roche Pharmaceutical, the company that supplies the reagents, will not be restocked for three to four days, he said.
In Tuesday’s count, Guayas Province continues to report about 70 percent of all cases in Ecuador, with 1,941 and 86 of the country’s 98 virus deaths. In Azuay Province, the number of cases rose from 77 to 94, with 82 of those in Cuenca.
Nationally, 58 virus patients have tested negative and have been released from hospitals or home quarantine.
Body collection problems continue in Guayaquil
The Health Ministry says it continues to collect bodies in Guayaquil and added that there is a new problem: a shortage of coffins for the dead. “Most workers that provide supplies to the funeral industry are not working due to the shutdown, so coffins are not being built,” says Merwin Terán, president of the Guayaquil funeral association. “For the same reason, only 20 of the city’s 120 funeral homes are operating and this has resulted in the burial problem. Owners and employees in the funeral homes are afraid of getting the disease and prefer to close their doors.”
Coastal Ecuadorians return to their rural sierra roots
According to transportation officials, thousands of Ecuadorians who relocated from the sierra to the coastal region for employment are coming home to weather the coronavirus. There is a constant stream of traffic toward the mountains and many vehicles are taking detours to avoid roadblocks between provinces and cantons, officials say. “Traditionally, epidemics are more severe on the coast and many people prefer to move back to the rural highlands, especially if they have family there,” a transit officer said.