Although no cases of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant have been found in Ecuador, Health Minister Ximena Garzón, says the country is prepared if it arrives. “We are currently sequencing positive test results that appear suspicious, especially of people who have recently returned from countries where Omicron has been detected.”
Unlike countries in Europe and North America that continue to deal with surges of Covid Delta infections, Ecuador has returned to pre-pandemic numbers for hospitalizations, Garzón says. “We are in an enviable position regarding the pandemic. Because our baseline for all diseases requiring hospital care is at 2019 levels, we are confident we can accommodate additional Covid cases if they occur.”
She added she is pleased to see the public responding to the Omicron threat by increased numbers at vaccinations centers. “On Monday and Tuesday, we had the largest number of people coming in for shots since September,” she said. “The unvaccinated are aware that they are still vulnerable and are rushing to protect themselves.”
According to Juan Zapata, president of the national Emergency Operations Committee (COE), the country is taking a “cautious but unpanicked” approach to the Omicron threat. “The measures that the president announced Monday were relatively modest and will not disrupt our recovery from the pandemic unless conditions dictate otherwise,” he said. He pointed that that excess deaths from all causes have fallen to two percent, indicating that the pandemic has reached endemic levels. “The two percent above the 2019 level is probably due to other health conditions that went untreated during the pandemic,” he said.
Zapata added there were 16 Covid deaths nationwide on Monday. “Compare this to 640 on May 10 and 398 on October 8 of last year and you see how far we have come.”
In response to the emergence of Omicron, President Guillermo Lasso imposed several new health restictions, including a reduction in crowd capacity for public events and new rules for international travelers. The measures go into force Wednesday, December 1.
Several infectious disease specialists say that Omicron may already be in the country but say they are not overly concerned. “We will not have all the information about the variant for two or three weeks but the early data suggests that it causes relatively mild symptoms and that vaccines and previous infections provide sufficient protection against it,” says Paul Ramos, Quito physician and former district health ministry director. “For most of the world, the Delta variant is still a much bigger threat.”
Ramos says he is surprised to see some countries closing their borders as a result of Omicron. “I understand the need for caution and preparation but I think there is an overreaction in some cases. Based on the numbers worldwide, we are in the recovery stage of the pandemic and we should not panic as new variants come along.”
He adds: “We are in a very good position in Ecuador regarding the pandemic and I am happy to see that Omicron is prompting more people to get vaccinated.”