Omicron is now the dominant Covid-19 variant in Ecuador, Health Minister Ximena Garzón said Friday. “It has overtaken Delta and older variants to be the most common and we know it is spreading rapidly,” she said in an interview on Radio Network América. She admitted that there is a “significant time lag” in determining the number of Omicron infections and calculating the extent of spread.
On Thursday, the Health Ministry officially reported 92 Omicron cases but a Ministry spokeswoman said that “thousands more” will soon be added to the total.
Meanwhile on Friday, the national Emergency Operations Committee rejected a demand by Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri for a new state of emergency declaration due to the surge of infections. Viteri wants nightly curfews and travel restrictions in Guayaquil and the southern coastal region.
The COE said that current conditions do not warrant additional restrictions and that emergency declarations can only be mandated by President Guillermo Lasso who promised no more lockdowns earlier in the week.
In its Friday meeting, the national COE ordered a one-week delay in the resumption of classes in public schools and required the country’s airports to check vaccination records of those entering terminals. The check effectively means all national air passengers must be vaccinated.
In her interview, Garzón said holiday activities make gauging the spread of Omicron especially difficult. “We had several weeks of social activities, beginning before Christmas, only ending this past weekend, and we are beginning to see a rise in infections across the country,” she said. “What we don’t know is the severity of cases and how many are Omicron and how many are Delta. “Fortunately, there has not been a significant increase of Covid deaths and only a modest increase in ICU demand.”
She admitted that statistics on infections and hospitalizations are “mixed up” at this point, making it difficult to make a clear assessment of the Covid spread. “Some numbers released from hospitals and by the Ministry do not differentiate non-Covid from Covid hospitalizations and the same is true of deaths. We will have a much clearer picture in coming days.”
Hospital admissions are rising the fastest in Guayas, Pichincha and Manabí Provinces, according to the Ministry. An administrator at the public Eugenio Espejo Hospital in Quito said Friday that most new admissions were patients who had deferred elective procedures due to earlier pandemic conditions but said he is also seeing more Covid patients.
Garzón said that the Health Ministry has developed contingency plans to accommodate an increase in cases. “At our public and Social Security hospitals, we progressively reduced the number of Covid beds and critical care units in the last four months as cases declined but we are prepared to add more,” she said. “We can do this quickly as the demand requires.”
Guayaquil is in “emergency status” due to a rapid rise in positive Covid tests, Viteri claimed in her message to the national COE. “On Thursday we had 562 new infections compared to 230 on Tuesday. This is a crisis that demands immediate attention.” Her comments were supported by the Guayaquil cantonal COE. She added that the city is averaging five more Coivd deaths per day since January 1 compared to late December.
Some local doctors disagree with Viteri, warning against “over reactions” against the milder Omicron variant. “We need to be careful and judicious in our actions and not make crazy decisions based on limited information,” says Christian Moreno, a former Health Ministry zonal director. “Yes, there are many more positive cases and the rate of positive results is rising,” he said. “On the other hand, there is a huge increase in tests being processed and this will mean more positive results. This week, there is a 10-fold increase in tests in Guayaquil over the number from early December.”