Ecuador Country Report

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Pablo Pérez (Universidad CEU San Pablo)

The spread of diseases among humans is not something new that we have to face today. Since humans began to live in society, dealing with the transmission and spread of diseases has been a constant throughout the world for centuries. In fact, pandemics such as the Justinian plague, Black Death, Smallpox, the Spanish flu, Asian flu (H2N2), Hong Kong flu and, more recently, the HIV virus in the 80’s together with the outbreak of Ebola in 2014 are some serious diseases that have affected the population.

Currently, it is the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or more commonly known as COVID-19, that has wreaked great havoc in every country on the planet. Few countries can boast of having handled the coronavirus crisis in an effective way. The actions of the Ecuadorian government which were implemented since the beginning of Covid 19 will be observed and analysed in this report. To begin with, Ecuador was one of the worst-hit countries in Latin America by the COVID-19 pandemic. With a population of approximately 17.5 million inhabitants, Ecuador has registered a total of 18,765 1 deaths and 388,046 cases confirmed by PCR 2 tests up to the beginning of May 2021. With regard to vaccination, as of 5th May, 2021, a total of 1,036,794 people 3 have been vaccinated. Since the end of April and the beginning of May 2021, an increase in the number of infections and COVID-19 deaths has placed 16 of the 24 provinces 4 of Ecuador under a strict weekend lockdown, along with daily curfews (this is included within a state of emergency initiated on April 23rd, 2021) to try to alleviate the saturation that many medical units are suffering in the country.

To better comprehend the situation, we observe the policies taken by the Ecuadorian Government, we have to go back until the first positive cases were identified in Ecuador in the end of February 2020, the administration was slow to execute measures at the border posts, airports and hospitals 5 The first approaches to combat the virus were focused on disseminating information and instructing medical personnel, in anticipation of the future health crisis that was looming throughout the region. In fact, it was not until the first cases of coronavirus were detected in the country —6 positive cases at the end of February 2020 6, a similar date when Peru and Colombia, countries with which it borders, detected their first cases— that truly direct plans were put in place to control the situation.

With an increase in the number of cases, the government of Ecuador was quick to monitor more closely access through airport borders, imposing quarantines on people arriving from high-risk countries, preparing hospitals focused on COVID-19 patients and closure of public areas in order to curb the spread of the contagion at national level. Stricter measures came into action in mid-March 2020, when President Lenin Moreno declared a state of emergency 7 in the whole country. From that moment on, restrictions on mobility between provinces, groupings of people, events, the cancellation of on-site classes and the complete closure of national borders became constant in the following months. The enforcement and control of the rules established by the national government were handed to the Ecuadorian army and the police.

The months of March and April 2020 were devastating for Ecuador. A considerable number of corpses were abandoned in the streets of the city of Guayaquil 8, the second largest in the country, due to a lack of burial spaces. Several international media outlets broadcasted the events, and the world was able to witness the dire situation that the capital of the province of Guayas was going through. The resignation of Catalina Andramuño, the Minister of Health at the end of March, 2020 9, came at a vulnerable time for Ecuador. Moreover, it brought on a series of 6 consecutive changes in the post of Minister of Health ever since, the latest being in April 2021. Between the months of May, June and July, the epidemiological traffic light (an epidemiological control system to regulate restrictions by geographic zones) 10 was the measure that the Ecuadorian government used as the basis for the consequent health policies from the first half of 2020. Like other nations in South America, the Ecuadorian authorities implemented this measure to allow categorizing cities in red, yellow or green and established restrictions to its inhabitants in relation to the level of coronavirus cases that each area had. This occurred at the same time a state of emergency was declared repeatedly over a course of a few months.

The management of the pandemic in the final stretch of the year 2020 in Ecuador could be summarized as a conflict between national and provincial authorities, where, depending on the incidence of COVID-19 in the population, certain activities were restricted or allowed. It is also important to note that, during this period of time, the indigenous population of Ecuador was extremely affected by the ravages of the coronavirus as they did not have the same facilities as the rest of the Ecuadorian population 11. Amnesty International even went so far as to publish on its website that this sector of society was in “a situation of increased risk due to shortages of drinking water, food sources, medical supplies, health services and COVID-19 testing.” 12

With this sanitary panorama, Ecuador began 2021 with a presidential election. The left, inaugurated by Rafael Correa and continued, to a certain extent, by Lenin Moreno, ended up finishing second, as Andrés Arauz, backed by Correa, was defeated by Guillermo Lasso, a right-wing politician.13. It is worth noting that after a year of dealing with this respiratory virus, even today, the figures continue to reach significant peaks. The latest data on coronavirus infections in the South American country have increased dramatically, with Quito, the capital, being the most affected city in the middle of a recently declared state of emergency.14

In the end, the population bore the brunt of the pandemic. The results that Ecuadorian politicians promised once the virus spread to every corner of the country seem to be conspicuous by their absence. The people with more economic difficulties have been, once again, those who have had to bear more human losses and the direct blow has meant the economic paralysis of many sectors. We will have to wait and see what actions the new Ecuadorian government implements for the future of Ecuador. For the time being, the Andean country, together with its neighbors in the region, do not seem to have a very promising horizon.