President Lenin Moreno’s six-minute address to the nation Friday night provided a broad outline of the government’s plan to relax coronavirus health emergency restrtictions but offered few details beyond those provided earlier in the day by Interior Minister Maria Romo.
“We will move slowly and deliberately to reopen society beginning May 4 but it is important to know that the health emergency is not over and that we are simply progressing to a different phase of our response,” he said.
Among the changes the president mentioned were the reopening of some businesses, industries and offices under social distancing protocols; limited resumption of urban transportation services; limited resumption of church services; and the expansion of home delivery services to include more products.
“We are asking industry, business and government operations to prepare plans for review in anticipation of the new approach,” Moreno said. “Specific details of the May 4 changes will be determined by the National Committee for Emergency Operations (COE) and announced during the coming week.”
He added that new restrictions may be applied to vulnerable population groups, including those over 60, the disabled and those with chronic illnesses. The COE is considering a system of cedula checks to keep vulnerable groups at home, he said.
Among the restrictions that will remain in place after May 4 are the prohibition of national and international air travel; inter-provincial bus service; public gatherings other than socially-distanced religious activities; the closure of national borders; the closure of public and private schools and universities; the closure of bars, discos, theaters and gyms; and the restriction on restaurants to provide only take-out service.
According to the president, curfews and driving restrictions will be determined by provinicial and municipal circumstances and will apply locally. He added that all current restrictions will continue in force nationwide for the week of April 27 to May 3.
Critics of the announcement said they would wait for more details, but expressed disappointment at the general plan, with business interests saying the changes do not go far enough while some health officials claim they are premature and threaten public health.
“At first look, we are disappointed in the announcement because we see very few substantial changes to the current limitations,” said Paul Ortiz, vice president of the Quito Chamber of Commerce. “We have no clear idea of which businesses will be allowed to operate and how the social distancing rules will affect those that can. We also are not happy that restuarants will not be able to provide in-house meal service.”
Ortiz added that the continued ban on travel will keep many businesses locked down.
On the other hand, several health professionals said that the May 4 plan will increase public health risks. “We are not at the point where the restrictions should be relaxed or modified,” said Quito infectious disease doctor Hernan Iglesias. “According to the health ministry, we have not reached a peak in number of Covid infections and probably won’t for another week or two. We should not make any changes until the infection curve has flattened and begins to go down.”
Moreno said that after May 4, monitoring of public activity will remain in full force. “If we see the rules being violated or an intensification of Covid-19 infections, will return to more severe protocols.”