The national Emergency Operations Committee (COE) on Wednesday voted to allow 50 percent capacity at Thursday afternoon’s World Cup qualifier game between Ecuador and Brazil. Previously, the COE had said the game would be played without a crowd due to concerns about the spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant in the country.
President Guillermo Lasso had asked to committee to review its no-crowd order, referencing a decline of infections and the fact that football crowds are allowed by other South American countries in World Cup qualifying matches.
Medical organizations in Quito and Guayaquil have objected to allowing fans to attend the game, saying it is too early to relax health restrictions. The Pichincha College of Physicians is questioning the Ministry of Health’s claim that the Omicron surge has peaked, citing hospital statistics in Quito showing an increase in Covid admissions.
“The COE’s action today is great news for football fans,” Lasso said in a Tweet following the committee’s decision. “In matters such as this, we must use a common sense approach that does not punish the people of Ecuador. We must also acknowledge the fact that the pandemic is finally in retreat. We no longer need to live in fear.”
Quito epidemiologist Daniel Simancas and board member of Ecuador Public Health Alert, called Lasso’s decision “regrettable” given current pandemic conditions. “We are at a delicate time in this crisis and I am sorry to see the COE capitulating to the president’s unwise advice,” he said. “The consequences of this action will be visible two weeks from now and the country’s health system will suffer as a result.”
He disagreed with Lasso that Ecuador should allow football fans because other countries do. “This country has been a world leader in vaccinations and mandating health restrictions, such as masking and requiring vaccine certificates, and this is no time to step away from that approach.”
President of the Pichincha College of Physicians, Víctor Álvarez disagrees, with Lasso assessment that cases are declining in Ecuador. “This is not what we are seeing in hospitals in Quito. We are at 84 percent general capacity and 73% in our intensive care units. We must maintain our vigilance.”
He repeated an early criticism of Lasso’s tax reduction for the Carnival holiday. “We have no idea what our epidemiological status will be a month from now. It is rash to assume the worst will be over at that point.”
Ecuador’s national football team takes the field against Brazil today at 4 p.m. in Quito. The team needs one more win to qualify for World Cup competition in Qatar.