Canton in ‘Ecuador’s Wuhan’ opens amid fear and hope

Daule, Ecuador, May 12 (efe-epa).- Daule, one of the worst coronavirus-hit regions of the province of Guayas, which has been dubbed “Ecuador’s Wuhan,” has become the country’s first canton to begin a reactivation of its economy after a nationwide lockdown of 55 days.

Daule, the area with the third highest number of COVID-19 cases in Guayas, has gone from being coded red to yellow in the country’s epidemiological traffic-light system, which has allowed its inhabitants to step out of their homes until 6 pm (instead of 2 pm) and open their businesses.

“This is a wonderful decision and we have been asking for it for a long time. People have to be aware and go out on the street protected, keep their distance and take every precaution so nothing bad happens,” said Julio Mendez, the owner of a shoe store in La Aurora, the parish in Daule closest to Guayaquil, the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak.

The decision was taken a week ago by the canton’s Emergency Operations Committee and was welcomed by the residents of this rural area of Ecuador, who had been asking the authorities to allow the reopening of their small businesses.

This development comes after an almost two-month long complete lockdown which has resulted in incalculable losses.

Méndez, who has lost revenues of about $2,000, is already working twice as hard to pay off his debts and try to move forward.

Like him, millions of workers in Ecuador, especially in the informal sector, who account for 60 percent of the workforce, are calling for a reactivation of the economy, although the vast majority of mayors are currently being cautious.

Businesses in Daule opened very early, and between 8 am and midday it seemed to be life as usual in the city.

“We are following all the protocols the mayor stated,” said Armando Pico, a restaurant manager, while painting yellow circles outside the restaurant’s premises to indicate safe distancing between customers.

“People have returned although to a lesser degree because there is still fear. They say they were already missing our food,” said the restaurateur, who suffered an 80 percent drop in sales these last few weeks. The remaining 20 percent of sales were thanks to a makeshift home delivery service.

The yellow coding, which only one other canton in Ecuador has been awarded so far out of a total of 221, implies the authorization of some public and commercial activities and a reduction of the curfew hours.

Transportation services between parishes, though not cantons, can also start operating, as well as restaurants, both with 30 percent occupancy.

But even so, there were some in the city that decided to keep their businesses closed.

“We want to see how people behave, we’re still a little scared and the flow of people between cantons is not like before because the others are closed,” Celia Tomala, owner of a clothing outlet, said.

Sampling results indicate that 35 percent of the population “already had the virus and are cured,” although official figures recorded only 573 confirmed cases in a population of about 130,000.

According to the mayor, the infection curve has stabilized and deaths “have dropped significantly.”

“Between late March and the first week of April we had between 35 and 40 deaths daily. But at the moment there are hardly one, two, three or four deaths a day, almost the same as before the pandemic,” he said.

And he says that under these conditions there is no reason to remain under lockdown, arguing that “the virus is going to remain with us and we have to learn to live with it.” EFE-EPA


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