March 22, 2020 / 3:43 AM / 2 months ago

Ecuador coronavirus cases increase by over 400 in less than a week, health minister quits

Elderly stand in line to collect their monthly pension before the 4:00 pm - 8:00 am curfew imposed by the government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Guayaquil, Ecuador March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Santiago Arcos

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador’s health and labor ministers resigned on Saturday, just hours after officials announced the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus had shot up to over 500 in the country. The government declared a state of emergency on Monday, prohibiting travelers from entering and imposing a night-time curfew along with other measures to restrict internal movement in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.

Officials reported 532 cases and seven recorded deaths during a virtual press conference on Saturday. On Tuesday, Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner had reported two deaths from the virus and 111 cases, double the previous day’s count of 58.

Hours after the announcement, officials confirmed the resignation of Health Minister Catalina Andramuno, without providing details, and appointed Juan Carlos Zevallos, a doctor who has worked in several universities, as her replacement. The labor minister also resigned, a presidential announcement said.After health professionals complained on social networks they lacked adequate protection to tend to those infected, Andramuno toured public hospitals on Friday, assuring staff they would be provided with sufficient medical supplies and devices.Some Ecuadorians have defied internal circulation restrictions, while there have been crowds in markets and shopping centers, according to Reuters witnesses. Seniors flocked to banks on Friday to withdraw their pensions.

President Lenin Moreno said on Friday night the government would be offering economic aid to the country’s most vulnerable, including directly giving $60 for two months to families earning less than $400 a month. The government would also partner with the private sector to pride relief, while banks would offering lines of credit to small businesses. 

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Sarah Kinosian; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishna

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