The Cuenca transportation office is advising motorists to allow more time to get to their destination as the new school year begins Thursday. “There will be intense traffic congestion in areas near schools on Thursday and Friday, particularly in the historic district,” the office said in social media posts.
About 1.8 million students begin classes Thursday and Friday in the sierra region, joining more than two million already attending classes on the coast and in Amazon provinces. Almost 200,000 students in Cuenca and Azuay Province are heading back to class in public and private schools, from kindergarten through high school.
According to Education Minister María Brown, this week will mark the first time since March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic was declared, that all public school students will be in class. “With a few exceptions, we have ended all remote and online instruction,” she said, acknowledging that many students have fallen behind their grade level in learning as a result of pandemic restrictions. “We will be administering competency tests to determine where students are in their education and expect to spend a significant amount of time on remediation.”
Brown said about 120,000 students, mostly at the high school level, ended their education during the pandemic in the sierra region.
Despite the lowered risk from Covid-19, the Ministry of Education says it will enforce indoor masking rules at the beginning of the new school year and that all students will be required to show proof of vaccination.
Private hospitals demand payment
Following the announcement that the government has reached a debt-payment agreement with Solca cancer hospitals, other private hospitals are asking, “what about us?” According to the National Association of Private Clinics and Hospitals, the government owes almost $500 million for services to the Social Security and public health care systems.
The association says its 67 members have received less than $20 million against the debt since the beginning of the year. “Our hospitals and clinics were paid $16 million on the amounts owed in February and March but very little since then,” an association spokeswoman said Wednesday. “We are happy to see the government making arrangements with Solca but we insist on the same treatment for our member institutions. Some of the arrears date back 10 years.”
She added that some association members may be forced to end services to IESS and the public health service if new payment arrangements are not made soon.
Actor Will Smith in Alausí for documentary
U.S. actor Will Smith arrived in Alausí Wednesday for the filming of a National Geographic documentary about the construction of the Ecuadorian railway, focusing on the so-called Devil’s Nose section of the railway. The actor was greeted with flowers and hugs by residents near the Alausí train station where a camera crew was making a promotional video.
The Devil’s Nose train ride, a major tourist attraction, was closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 but is scheduled to reopen in early 2023.
Smith flew into the Cuenca airport early Wednesday before being driven to Alausí where he will stay for several days of filming.
Remote work ends as Covid cases drop
The National Emergency Operations Committee announced an end to the “teleworking” order for 100,000 government workers on Wednesday. “As a result of the continued reduction of Covid-19 cases, all employees currently working remotely should return to their offices beginning the week of September 5,” the COE said in a statement.
The Health Ministry announced Tuesday that the “second Covid-19 wave” of the year was ending and that health restrictions applying to public workers and public offices were being lifted. “We are experiencing a reduction in case numbers as well as the severity of individual cases,” Health Minister José Ruales said. “The trend in the pandemic continues in a downward trajectory, with few hospitalizations.”
According to the Ministry, there were 1,823 cases reported during the week of August 21 to 27 in contrast to the 4,111 and 2,898 reported in the previous two weeks.