New Covid cases surge as Saturday sets record; Mr. Moreno goes to Washington; AstraZéneca vaccines OK’d; La Niña means more rain, cooler temperatures

Jan 25, 2021 | 27 comments

Ecuador reported 3,060 new cases of the Covid-19 virus Saturday, the highest daily total since the pandemic began in March. The daily count averaged 600 per day from August through early January but has increased to 1,000 a day in the past two weeks. Pichincha Province and Quito continue to lead the country in new cases, accounting for 1,041 of Saturday’s total.

New Covid-19 infections reached a new high on Saturday.

“We are entering a dangerous period of increasing cases and must be prepared to take the measures necessary to control it,” Deputy Health Minister Xavier Solórrzano said Sunday. “We have lagged behind Europe and North America in their recent surges but now it is our turn.”

Solórrzano said the extent of the spread of the new Covid variants from Great Britain, South Africa and Brazil is unknown beyond the cases identified in Los Rios Province. “We assume those strains are already in the country but we do not know how many cases they represent. We are increasing efforts to perform the sequencing process on more cases to determine the spread.”

The latest research indicates the variants from Britain and South Africa are more contagious and deadly than existing versions of the virus although scientists say more data is needed for an accurate profile of the mutations.

Despite the increase in cases, the health ministry says that Ecuador’s daily death toll from Covid continues to be low, averaging 25 to 40 deaths per day.

Mr. Moreno goes to Washington
President Lenín Moreno left for the U.S. on Sunday to meet officials of the new administration of President Joe Biden. In addition to making introductions, Moreno and several of his cabinet members, will engage in talks of about the new trade agreement between the U.S. and Ecuador, the Covid-19 response, as well as economic, educational and environmental issues. On Monday and Tuesday, Moreno will be at the U.S. capitol, meeting with members of Congress.

Among those traveling with the president are Secretary of the Cabinet Juan Sebastián Roldán, Communication Secretary Caridad Vela, Foreign Minister Luis Gallegos and Finance Minister Mauricio Pozo.

Although one is not currently scheduled, Vela and Ecuador’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ivonne Baki are attempting to arrange a meeting between Moreno and Biden.

Rain, cool temperatures to continue
According to Ecuador’s national meteorological service, above average rainfall and below average temperatures are expected to continue until at least March. The weather pattern is the result of La Niña, the weather phenomenon created by Pacific Ocean temperatures that are three to four degrees below normal.

In a bulletin issued last week, the National Institute of Meteorology said that the drought suffered in many areas of the country in October and November has given way to excess rain due to air flow from the Amazon and strengthening of the Pacific Humboldt Current. It advised local governments to be prepared for landslides in the mountains and flooding in lowlands in the coming weeks.

AstraZéneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine approved
The National Agency for Health Regulation (Arcsa) announced Sunday that it has authorized the importation of five million doses of the British AstraZéneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine although a delivery date is yet to be determined. Like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, AstraZéneca requires two doses to reach maximum effectiveness.

Previously, the health ministry said it expects to receive two million doses of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine, four million doses of the Covaxx/Aurobindo vaccine and eight million doses of a variety of vaccines from the World Health Organization. According to Health Minister Juan Carlo Zevallos, Ecuador may replace some of the Pfizer vaccines with those from Johnson & Johnson due production delays at Pfizer.

Zevallos says delivery dates of most vaccines will be determined by production and delivery schedules and cautions that the vaccination process could continue into 2022. He added that the ministry plans to vaccinate all vulnerable populations this year.