Testing for national air passengers is unresolved; Concerns grow about welfare of refugees and street vendors; Latam ends service in Argentina

Jun 19, 2020 | 10 comments

A Thursday morning announcement that all national airline passengers would be required to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test before flying was put on hold hours later by Minister of Health Juan Carlos Zevallos.

Minister of Health Juan Carlos Zevallos

In its morning announcement, the health ministry said, beginning Friday, June 19, air passengers would need to take a Covid-19 rapid test within 72 hours of boarding a national flight and would not be allowed to fly if results were positive. Zevallos’ decision to delay the requirement was the result of his doubts about the reliability of rapid tests. “Given their poor accuracy we cannot demand that passengers take them or refuse them service because of the results. The rapid tests are not useful for this purpose and we will need to review the situation before announcing a policy.”

According to various international studies, rapid tests have an accuracy rate ranging from 75 to 90 percent, Zevallos said.

The issue of testing national air passengers arose from the Wednesday results of rapid Covid tests taken in Guayaquil of passengers arriving on flights from Quito. According to Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri, 15 passengers tested positive for Covid-19, a number later raised to 21. The tests were carried out by the city of Guayaquil and Viteri criticized the national government for not conducting tests when passengers departed Quito.

Zevallos said he had not seen the results of the Guayaquil tests and could not comment on their accuracy.

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Concerns grow about beggars and street vendors
The Ministry of Social Inclusion says it is monitoring the health of street vendors and beggars in Ecuador’s largest cities. It reports a large increase in the number of informal vendors and beggars in Quito, Cuenca, Guayaquil, Ambato and Santo Domingo during the Covid-19 health emergency and says many of them are refugees from Venezuela and Colombia. The ministry is concerned about hunger and the spread of Covid-19 among the group.

Cuenca’s El Centro is crowded with beggars and street vendors, many of them Venezuelan refugees.

In Quito, the Venezuela Association of Ecuador surveyed 9,700 Venezuelan families and says 8,000 of them are in a “situation of extreme vulnerability.” The association says most families say they collect enough money for food but cannot pay for accommodations and many face eviction.

The government estimates there are 350,000 to 400,000 Venezuelan refugees in Ecuador. It estimates there are 70,000 Colombians living in the country.

Latam ends service in Argentina
Latam Airlines announced Wednesday that it is ending service in Argentina. The airline management said that, under current circumstances, continuing operations in the Argentine market “was not feasible or sustainable.” Earlier this month, the government of Argentina announced that international and national air service would not be allowed until September due to the Covid health crisis.

In the past, Latam and other commercial airlines have complained about preferences given to government-owned Argentina Air, claiming it hindered competitiveness.

Latam said it will lay off its staff of 1,700 employees in Argentina.

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