The sustained downward trend in covid-19 cases in Ecuador, after the Ómicron peak, shows a positive scenario for the authorities amid the pandemic.
According to the epidemiological report of February 10, 2022, in the fifth week of the year, 25,858 reported infections were reported. This compares to 50,168 registered in the second week of January. This was a reduction of 48%.
The decrease was also seen in number of hospitalized cases which went from 50,787 in the second week, to 9,032 in the fifth week.
In the comprehensive public health network, made up of Social Security, the Armed Forces and the National Police, occupancy in hospitalization, intermediate care, and intensive care units (ICU) is 51%, 69% and 75%, respectively. In the complementary or private network, it is 62%, 66% and 67%.
Based on these figures, the Minister of Health, Ximena Garzón, said out that compared to the record number of infections that was experienced with the Omicron variant, which is more transmissible, infections are down, hospital units and ICUs were decongested, and health services did not collapse, as happened in 2020 and 2021.
Garzón added that Ecuador is in a process of social and economic reactivation, with better indicators and also with greater vaccination coverage; 87% of the population has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, 83% have received the full schedule of doses, and 17% have received a booster shot.
“That rate of vaccination allowed us to control the Delta variant, which also had an outbreak like Ómicron,” she said.
The Minister also spoke about the Carnival holiday and pointed out that all the conditions exist to have a good holiday. “From the Ministry we are working to improve vaccination coverage. You have to continue taking care of yourself, respect the capacity, wear a mask, maintain social distance, avoid meetings with many people,” she said.
Possible biosafety changes coming
Garzón pointed out that to make new decisions regarding biosafety measures, viral positivity must be below five (currently it is 45% with PCR tests). In addition, the Delta variant, which caused most of the severe cases of the disease, must be eradicated. At this moment the Delta variant still represents 2% of the country’s Covid-19 infections (with Ómicron representing the other 98%)
According to the Minister, the country’s epidemiologists believe that within two weeks, the Delta variant will no longer be found in the country.
When that scenario is reached, Garzón said it will be possible to determine whether biosecurity measures such as the use of masks in open spaces can be relaxed. “Let’s see how the behavior goes. It also depends on the citizens during the next few weeks, that they continue to be vaccinated and we can go back to normality.”
Doctor Víctor Álvarez, from the Pichincha College of Physicians, says the trend of decreasing cases is good news. But he stressed that it is important that it is accompanied by the process of maintaining good biosecurity behavior.
And for this trend to continue, Dr. Álvarez says that there must be co – responsibility of the productive, tourist and community sectors to strengthen biosecurity measures, which are more essential today. Likewise, he highlighted the importance of continuing to promote vaccination with both doses and the booster dose shot.
Epidemiologist Mauricio Espinel says the downward trend in cases has been evident since mid-January. However, the pandemic behavior of Ómicron must be closely monitored, especially in the face of a long holiday.
He mentions that in these almost two years of pandemic what has been seen is that after the holidays there is always an increase in cases, so the restriction measures must be maintained. Espinel adds that there are still unvaccinated people who are more susceptible to the virus.
The epidemiologist points out that there is still a lot of uncertainty around the new variant and what is needed are certainties to move to the scenario seen in Europe. He highlights the need for a seroprevalence study to find out how many antibodies a sample of the population has and from there, actions could be taken regarding biosafety measures.
Catalina Yepes, a specialist in public health, explained that Ómicron’s behavior is similar throughout the world and shows a relatively rapid decrease in infections.
She pointed out that there was an exponential growth of cases in Ecuador and now there is a sustained drop due to natural evolution.
Though, says Yepes, there is uncertainty due to the Ómicron sublineage, BA.2, which is apparently 1.5 times more contagious, but does not present differences in symptomatology or severity of the condition.
Although Omicron turned out to be very contagious, thanks to vaccination and the characteristics of the variant, its impact was very low. Yepes says she had many patients infected in a short period, but the majority only had mild cases, which did not cause as many deaths as at the beginning of the pandemic.
She added that what happened with Ómicron shows an encouraging scenario. Since there are many people who have overcome the disease and who are also vaccinated, there is a combination of immunity that is stronger.
Yepes, says that vaccination with the complete schedule and the booster dose continue to be the best weapon to combat the pandemic, in addition to the use of masks and physical distancing.