Has Ecuador turned the page on the Covid-19 pandemic?

. Jun 18, 2020
Has Ecuador turned the page on the Covid-19 pandemic? Health Minister professionals test Ecuadorians for Covid-19. Photo: CarlosE_Video/Shutterstock

The coronavirus entered Ecuador through its main urban center, the port city of Guayaquil. The outbreak began with a number of people complaining of pulmonary problems, but doctors were unaware of what was going on. In no time, the city would witness some of the most horrific scenes of the coronavirus pandemic. The Guayas province — where Guayaquil is located — saw cases quickly jumping from 1,400 to more than 13,000. Daily horrors included literal trails of abandoned bodies on the streets. In hospitals, health professionals were forced to pile up corpses in bathrooms, as morgues simply couldn’t process the overflowing demand.

Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri said on Twitter that at least 33 percent of the city was infected

— which would take figures to around 750,000 cases, enough to place Ecuador as the third-worst-affected country in the world. Official nationwide figures, however, have the tally at fewer than 48,000. As in Brazil, underreporting due to low testing has hampered Ecuador&#8217;s response to the pandemic.</p> <p>Now, however, Ecuador&#8217;s worst days seem to be behind it. The coronavirus curve in Guayas has flattened, with a 10-percent growth in cases from early May to June 15. And despite not having the most reliable data collection about infections and tests, one indicator seems to corroborate this improvement: the number of daily burials has significantly decreased in past weeks.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2880751" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <p>In May, the country&#8217;s Emergency Operations Committee (COE) started ranking municipalities according to contagion risks, using color-oriented alerts: yellow for low restrictions, orange for partial restrictions, and red for total restrictions. The first assessment had all but three of the country&#8217;s 221 cantons on red alert. On June 12, 131 had already dropped to yellow alerts.</p> <p>Gradually, authorities are also allowing citizens to grieve the loss of their loved ones. In the Parque de la Paz cemetery in Guayaquil, roughly 40 families are allowed in every day to pay their respects after a painful two-month wait.</p> <p>But this doesn&#8217;t mean a quick economic reopening is in order. On Tuesday, President Lenin Moreno <a href="">extended the state of exception</a> in Ecuador for an extra 60 days.</p> <h2>Protecting Amazon populations</h2> <p>If crowded cities in Ecuador were home to war-like scenes due to the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus, the country has actually performed far better than its neighbors when it comes to protecting its indigenous population, largely thanks to private ventures which filled gaps left by the government.</p> <p>Led by Roque Sevilla, a former Mayor of Quito, the trust fund <em>Por Todos</em> (For All) <a href="">raised USD 11.5 million in donations</a> to provide indigenous villages in the Amazon with triage materials to detect mild infections which wouldn&#8217;t require hospitalization — as well as basic food goods. Chinese video app TikTok reportedly donated USD 500,000, with the rest coming from local donors.</p> <p>“We could buy hospitals personal protective equipment that was badly needed. No hospital had them. Maybe they had masks,” Mr. Sevilla told Forbes. He added: “We needed to buy things immediately. The government has lots of regulations and is too slow. It just doesn’t work when you have a crisis like this.”</p> <p>The idea of the trust fund actually came after he saw how the coronavirus ravaged Amazonian states in Brazil. Manaus — the biggest city in the Amazon Basin — was the first to experience a <a href="">full-scale collapse</a> of its healthcare system. As of early June, the city of 1.7 million people accounted for 8 percent of all Covid-19 cases in Brazil.</p> <p>In Brazil, the coronavirus has been particularly deadly among indigenous communities. Vânia Fialho, a professor at both the University of Pernambuco and Federal University of Pernambuco, estimated on June 9 that roughly 2,886 indigenous people had been infected with the disease, causing 256 deaths. These are hefty figures, considering the total indigenous population in Brazil is of roughly 800,000 people.</p> <p>The <a href="">Atlas ODS Amazonas</a> study, from the Center for Environmental Sciences at the Federal University of Amazonas (Ufam), predicts that Manaus will be the first city in Brazil to be able to return to normality among the cities that faced desperate health crisis in the first half of the year.</p> <p>However, it is unclear how fast the contagion curve will flatten out.

Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs—specializing Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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