The Ministry of Health believes it has identified in Ecuador the first case of the more contagious variant of Covid-19 first identified in Great Britain. Researchers are sequencing a virus sample from a 50-year-old man who recently returned from the UK who was first hospitalized in Babahoyo before being transferred to the IESS hospital in Quevedo. The ministry hopes to make a determination within 48 hours and says the man may have infected a family member who is also under surveillance.
In announcing the suspected case, Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos said the UK Covid variant, called B.1.1.7, has probably been spreading in Ecuador for several weeks or even months. “Given the interconnectivity of the world it is almost impossible to think that it is not already circulating,” he said, adding that the variant has already been identified in about 50 countries.
Tax collections are down 13% in 2020
Ecuador’s annual tax collections dropped 13 percent in 2020, according to the Finance Ministry. The $12.4 billion in receipts is the lowest since 2013.
According to Fausto Ortiz , former finance minister, the collection only covers the payment of public salaries, Social Security allocations and the human development bonus. “It insufficient to cover many other expenses, including for capital projects and interest on the debt. It is why the country has been forced to turn to the IMF for help.”
The ministry says collections were far below 2019 levels from March through October and have only turned positive in November and December. “Yes, there is some hope of a rebound but it is questionable if it can be maintained,” Ortiz said.
According Ortiz and other economists, Ecuador has made promises to the IMF that it is reducing expenses and increasing revenue. “The problem is that a new government takes office in May and if the agreements of the Moreno government are not kept, loans could end or be reduced. The biggest issue is the IMF demand that the VAT be increased from 12 percent to 15 percent, which is a volatile political issue sure to come up in the presidential campaign.”
Dialysis patients and caregivers protest lack of government payment
Patients and dialysis center workers are protesting the government’s lack of payment to private clinics providing dialysis services. The government agrees it owes $200 million to the clinics, which also provide service for public health and IESS patients. Patients have reportedly been told that services will be suspended if payment is not made within a matter of weeks.
In addition to dialysis, the private clinics say they are running short of supplies and, in some cases, are having trouble paying rent and utilities as a result of the non-payments.
UN wants Naboa on the presidential ballot
The United Nations Human Rights Committee is asking the government to allow Alvaro Noboa to appear on the February presidential election ballot. The National Elections Commission (CNE) has refused to certify Noboa as a candidtate, citing deadline and registration violations. Ecuador’s Contentious Electoral Tribunal, which has oversight over CNE and supports the inclusion of Naboa, is demanding the dismissal of CNE members but the case is under appeal and will probably not be resolved before the February election.
Noboa, reportedly the richest man in Ecuador, has run five times for president, coming in second on two occasions.