On January 5, 2021, Wilson Tenorio, President of the Guayas College of Physicians, urgently asked that flights from Europe be suspended due to the increase in cases on that continent from the new strain of the coronavirus detected in the United Kingdom.
The request was also made due to the increase in cases sustained in Guayaquil. The city went from having 3.5 to 7.7 deaths per day due to complications from COVID-19 in the preceding three-week period, according to statistics kept by the Municipality’s Technical Board of Health.
“The ICUs of the hospitals are full, on the brink, what are they waiting for, there is already the rebound in cases,” Tenorio lamented.
Because of this rise in cases, and the concern about the new strain of the coronavirus, Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri requested that the National government prohibit the entry of travelers from the United Kingdom thru the city’s airport.
This is the second time that Viteri challenged the National government on passenger entry thru Guayaquil since the pandemic began. Last March, Viteri was famously photographed moving a truck onto the José Joaquín de Olmedo airport runway to block the landing of two Iberia and KLM passenger jets that were on a mission to repatriate Dutch and Spanish nationals out of Ecuador—the mission had been expressly authorized by President Lenin Moreno.
However, on Wednesday, the Minister of Health, Juan Carlos Zevallos, announced that the Government would not accept Viteri’s proposal to prohibit the entry of passengers from the United Kingdom into the country because “it has no technical or scientific basis.”
“We cannot accept that proposal—although we have considered it and we are about to respond with great respect—because it lacks the technical part and scientific evidence,” said Zevallos, explaining that the entry not only of UK passengers, but also those of the 27 countries of the European Union (EU), the United States, South Africa, Chile and others, would not be blocked.
In addition, Zevallos pointed out that there are no direct flights from the UK to Ecuador, and that is why the antigen test is being taken and PCR is required at random from all passengers, not only those from the UK.
Viteri response not unexpected
On Tuesday, with reports confirming the arrival of the new strain of COVID-19 into the country, Mayor Viteri, recalled the requests made by the local Emergency Operations Committee (COE), regarding controls at the Guayaquil airport to contain the spread of the virus.
Along with Viteri, the local COE had requested several measures, among which the results of the COVID-19 tests that passengers must present had to have been taken a maximum of five days prior to their arrival in the country.
Viteri also said that regardless of last week’s refusal of her proposal to limit travel into the airport, the city will take measures to protect itself from the pandemic, even if there is no endorsement by the national authority.
“Guayaquil is going to do what it has to do to protect itself, if the national authority likes it or not, it is not my problem,” she said.
Regardless of rules, passengers angry when confronted with test requirements
Last Thursday, Air Europa flight UX039 from Madrid landed in Guayaquil. Outside the José Joaquín de Olmedo airport, family members waited for arriving family members, as only one family member per passenger—with the exception of those with small children—was allowed to enter the airport to greet arriving passengers.
The passengers exited slowly. Despite the fear of the new strain detected in the United Kingdom and its spread across Europe, families could not contain their hugs when they saw their loved one; some sprayed themselves with alcohol and left the airport.
However, the arrival of passengers on that flight was not smooth. Inside, three travelers were approached by uniformed and airport personnel because they brought PCR tests that were not valid and did not want to comply with the provision to do the test at the airport.
According to the COE provision of December 21, 2020, each passenger on a flight from the United Kingdom, European Union, South Africa and Australia, in addition to presenting their negative PCR test, would also have to undergo the antigen test (rapid) to verify that they did not have the virus. And if it is positive, they would be required to undergo mandatory preventive isolation (APO).
However, this night, Ecuadorian passengers residing in Spain were upset with the provisions and behaved in a “rude and threatening” manner. One of them tried to raise his hand to a doctor trying to administer the test, but he was stopped by colleagues.
This story was reported by a relative of the doctor, who accompanied her to the Flagrancia Unit of the Model Barracks, on Avenida de las Américas, to file a complaint for “attack and resistance to the health authority.”
“It is not the first time this has happened. The passengers say, ‘No, in the other country they did not tell me about this test, the airline did not tell me about the test, I did not know.’ But the doctors and police have to follow orders,” he explained.
This was corroborated by another doctor who performs controls in the international arrivals area. “It is not something from today, it is from days ago. Yesterday (Wednesday 6th) I had a passenger who did not want to do the PCR test; he was rude, he wanted to hit me, even though I explained to him that he must respect the health regulations,” he said.
Another of the doctors said that they must be put up with anger and stress of the passengers daily. “They come in with a super reckless attitude. They want us to forcefully validate the tests they bring, and many are antigen and those are not acceptable. It is clear in the COE that it must be PCR,” he said.
Dr. Miguel Morla, deputy director of Health of the Municipality of Guayaquil, commented that at least 20% of passengers do not bring the PCR test, or it is old or not correct, so they have to be put in APO, and they don’t want to go.
“The situation is bad, there is resistance from the passengers, not all, but many get angry,” he lamented.
He added that travelers seeking to come to Ecuador should know that they have to show a negative PCR test that is no more that 10 days old
“Imagine, it is quite a long time, in other countries it is only good for three days, like Chile, and whoever wants to travel has to comply,” explained the doctor.
Three airline passengers land…in trouble
As for those three passengers who arrived from Madrid with invalid PCR tests, they were placed under the orders of the Prosecutor’s Office for presenting allegedly “supplanted evidence,” according to Juan Zapata, President of the National COE who led the operation at the Guayaquil terminal.
“There are several indications that lead us to presume that it was a false document, due to the date of issue, due to the record it has of the last test of these citizens, due to the logos that are not updated by the Ministry of Public Health, due to the names that are protocols of the doctor that they have to sign,”said Zapata.
He added that these people are from the province of Manabí, so health authorities in zones 8 and 4 will verify the documents presented by the travelers.
Zapata explained that several crimes are being investigated.
“Adulteration of logos of legally established laboratories, identity theft, even change from positive to negative tests and that is the imminent risk, and above all the irresponsibility of this happening again and that contagions can be generated,” he said.
Since last August, 250 falsified COVID-19 PCR tests have been presented at the José Joaquín de Olmedo airport in Guayaquil.