Despite the economic losses due to the pandemic, inhabitants are betting on small and even improvised businesses to get ahead.
“Guayaquil has been a city that developed fundamentally based on commerce, commerce in the city, but for the entire country. The majority of Guayaquil residents have not been employed by the State, they have not belonged to the bureaucracy; on the contrary, it has constantly had to invent jobs, ways to earn a living, to survive, and every time there have been problems, for example, when there is a strong winter, floods, many people invent jobs, take advantage of ‘the opportunity’ of what to offer, to sell products,” says sociologist Homero Ramírez, former director of the School of Sociology at the University of Guayaquil.
And that has been demonstrated once again in the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has been going on for 16 months and which, at the beginning, in March 2020, strongly hit the population of Guayaquil emotionally, physically, psychologically and economically. At that time, its people, in addition to burying their thousands of dead, had to deal with unemployment, with the lack of beds, medicines and medical equipment in hospitals to save the lives of more infected that were getting worse, and it seemed they had no alternative.
They were moments of tension, of fear, of stress, of feeling that there was no way out, say inhabitants, sociologists, and historical researchers. Those bad and distressing moments of March and April 2020 were then reflected in statistics and in international publications, in which Guayaquil was spoken of as the epicenter of the pandemic in Ecuador. And within the country there were citizens of other provinces who even proposed closing the way to its inhabitants or “isolating it” in order, according to them, to prevent the spread of the virus that had plunged the city into chaos.
On April 6, 2020, the highest number of burials was recorded: 502 in a single day, in four groups of local cemeteries. And of those, 464 were directly attributed to the pandemic, according to the records of the mathematician Juan José Illingworth, who set off the alerts about the figures that were extremely distant from those handled by the country’s health officials and authorities.
By the end of that April, burials for various causes, including COVID-19, exceeded 7,540 in the same cemeteries in the city. And in these 16 months of COVID-19, there are more than 27,000 deaths from various causes in the city.
After those days of anguish and terror, with the help of private companies and municipal intervention, the panorama changed and there were even days with zero deaths from COVID-19 in the “Pearl of the Pacific,” as happened in June 2020. By August of that year, Quito surpassed Guayaquil in cases of contagion, and Pichincha surpassed Guayas in the number of deaths.
Deaths combined with financial losses. Deaths weren’t the only losses. There were also the millions in sales losses that the productive sectors and those generating direct employment, such as industries and businesses, stopped receiving and that put the permanence of some businesses or lines at risk, according to their owners.
The commercial sector of Guayaquil lost $2.353 billion in sales thru May 2021, due to the measures dictated by the authorities (such as states of exception and curfew) in their attempts to contain the pandemic, according to figures from the Guayaquil Chamber of Commerce (CCG). In Ecuador, by May the total losses in sales in the commercial sector due to COVID-19 reached $10.687 billion.
Recovery slowly arriving
But now, there are airs of recovery that are also reflected in the statistics, although it is still far from reaching pre-pandemic sales.
The turnover of the commerce sector has been growing in Guayaquil for three months, reports the Chamber.
In May 2021, business sales grew 46% compared to May 2020. And although they sell below pre-pandemic levels, there is optimism in the sector and they expect sales to continue growing and to reach the 14% they estimate for this year, explains Miguel Ángel González, president of the Guayaquil Chamber of Commerce (CCG).
“Traders had to reinvent themselves to deal with the pandemic. For one thing, merchants made the leap to e-commerce. Some partners started using social media to promote and sell their products. Others invested heavily to develop their own websites where consumers can buy online”, says González, who adds that some businesses closed their doors permanently, because “during the most critical moments of the pandemic they had no liquidity.”
Currently, more than 95% of the merchants have reopened, highlights the representative of the CCG.
The industrial sector was another key group also affected by the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the city, companies affiliated with the Guayaquil Chamber of Industries (CIG), which represent different productive sectors, employ approximately 100,000 people. Here there is also talk of a recovery in the sector, albeit slowly, and it is highlighted that none of the firms affiliated with the union closed their doors permanently and that all are operating.
“Despite the health and sanitary situation experienced in March and April of this year (again), and despite the respective mobility and capacity restrictions that remained in force in those months, the Ecuadorian economy has been experiencing in recent months a process of reactivation in terms of productive activity and sales. More than ‘new industries,’ we could speak of new processes adapted by companies with the aim of overcoming the obstacles posed by the temporary closure of production. In this sense, most of the companies affiliated to the CIG have been working on developing leveraged mechanisms in Industry 4.0,” says Francisco Jarrín, President of the Guayaquil Chamber of Industries.
And he adds that Guayaquil was one of the cantons that with the pandemic had a “relatively moderate impact (compared to the impact in other cantons), with a drop in sales of 11%” during 2020.
“The economic activity of Guayaquil has been characterized by being part of a broader productive-economic cluster, defining an area of influence that includes cantons such as Durán, Daule, Samborondón, Yaguachi, among others in the Guayas province; in addition to other cantons in other provinces, such as Manabí and Los Ríos, located in the Guayas river basin,” explains Jarrín.
And this productive-economic cluster has also favored neighboring populations, he adds.
“It has allowed several of the other cantons within the Guayaquil area of influence to register a remarkable economic performance, even though during 2020, cantons such as Durán and Samborondón also registered relatively moderate impacts on sales (-7% and -6% respectively),” mentions Jarrín.
Historical researcher Fernando Mancero, who is also a doctor-dentist, says the inhabitant of Guayaquil, seen as a whole or in a general way, ” is extremely resilient and optimistic despite adversity.”
And it is in this city where the desire to help from private institutions is observed or manifested more, as it happened and continues to happen in the pandemic, as well as in other events.
“At all times, both in epidemics, pandemics, fires… the spirit of the Guayaquil has never bent, who, far from crying, has gone to work to return to ‘normality’. And this time it was no different. The situation was extremely tough; at the first moment of the pandemic, when the virus surprised us, we were careless, we were not adequately warned, but Guayaquil society got together and began to put their money and their wills to try to alleviate the serious situation we were experiencing (at the beginning of 2020),” explained Mancero.
The feelings of recovery and optimism for the reactivation, for the commercial movement that is increasing, are also experienced in neighborhoods, streets, houses and offices of Guayaquil, where its inhabitants have bet on small businesses or enterprises, as they are called, to get ahead in the face of the lack of employment or the needs they suffer in a city with more than 2.69 million inhabitants.
“Normally, Guayaquil society does not expect problems to be solved by other, because that has been the case throughout its history, but rather tries to solve them as it knows how and has known how to do it (on its own),” said Mancero.
Homero Ramírez added, “We have already come to have a positive mentality and attitude, different from the one we had at a certain moment at the beginning of the pandemic, 16 months ago: that people thought more about death than about life, and therefore, if he thought about death, he did not think about how to survive, he did not invent jobs, he did not invent ways to produce… Today, the Guayaquil man gives a clear message to all of Ecuador that we can move on, reactivate the economy.”