By Susana Madera
Quito, Apr 20 (EFE).- The pandemic is causing growing concern in Ecuador, where long waiting lists for intensive care unit beds, the spread of more aggressive coronavirus variants and a slow vaccine rollout are all exacerbating the situation.
“It’s worrying,” Health Minister Camilo Salinas said in an interview with Efe, adding that a severe crisis could arise unless more stringent protective measures are adopted by the population, including those who have already been vaccinated and now “believe they are fully protected.”
The sixth person to head up that portfolio since President Lenin Moreno was inaugurated in May 2017 and the fifth since the pandemic began, Salinas took the helm in April 7 after his predecessor, Mauro Falconi, stepped down amid a VIP immunization scandal and other irregularities.
Salinas said the hospital bed occupancy rate currently stands at 63.7 percent nationwide, although in Quito and other cities several medical facilities have already reached the saturation point and there are waiting lists for admittance to both hospitals and Covid-19 ICUs.
A total of 500 people were on waiting lists for ICU beds nationwide last week, the minister confirmed.
In some hospitals such as IESS Quito Sur General Hospital, coronavirus patients are being treated in unusual places, including sections of the cafeteria, in armchairs and even cots placed inside tents outdoors.
More than 360,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed by 1.2 million PCR tests in Ecuador since the onset of the pandemic in that South American country. Physicians, however, fear the real number of cases is much higher given that the cost of the tests is prohibitively high for many people in that country of more than 17 million inhabitants.
The Health Ministry’s figures indicate that 12,720 people have died of Covid-19, although 4,983 other fatalities are regarded as probable Covid deaths. Around 2,000 coronavirus patients are currently hospitalized in Ecuador.
The vaccination process, meanwhile, is progressing slowly, bogged down in part by organizational problems. Authorities also are eagerly expecting the arrival of new doses in a country where 1.6 million doses have been received thus far.
An additional 1 million doses from Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech are scheduled to arrive in early May, according to Salinas. At least 50,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and between 110,000 and 150,000 doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca-University of Oxford are to arrive on a weekly basis.
Just 384,093 people have received the first dose of a vaccine, 170,276 of whom also have been administered the second dose.
“The idea is to reach 20 percent of the total population by May 24,” when incumbent head of state Lenin Moreno will be succeeded by Guillermo Lasso, Salinas said. The president-elect, for his part, has said his goal is for 9 million people to be vaccinated in the first 100 days of his administration, an ambitious target that will depend on vaccine availability.
Salinas said coronavirus variants first discovered in the United Kingdom and in New York City are spreading via community transmission (where the source of transmission for a large number of people is not traceable) and fears the same could be true of the highly contagious Brazilian variant. EFE