Ecuador Returns to Mandatory Masking, Citing Influenza

A street vendor wearing a face mask hides from the police in downtown Quito, on March 19, 2020. - Ecuador decreed state of emergency restricting the circulation of people against the spread of the new coronavirus. (Photo by RODRIGO BUENDIA / AFP) (Photo by RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP via Getty Images)
RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP via Getty Images

The National Committee for Emergency Operations (COE) of Ecuador announced on Friday that it would reinstate a national indoor mask mandate, citing the spread of both Chinese coronavirus and influenza.

Public health officials in the country noted that they had not documented a significant increase in Chinese coronavirus hospitalizations or deaths prior to reinstating the mandate, which covers classrooms, public transport, offices, and hospitals, among other crowded areas. Ecuadorian Health Minister José Ruales emphasized that the rapid spread of influenza and other respiratory illness was taken into consideration when reimposing the restrictions.

The South American nation restored the restriction following months of the vast majority of world governments lifting many of the civil rights restrictions, lockdowns, and other mandates associated with the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps most prominently, the Chinese Communist Party announced this week – following an eruption of civil unrest in nearly every major city in the country – that it would begin allowing some people who test positive for the virus to avoid being imprisoned in quarantine camps and refocus efforts away from lockdowns and towards pressuring citizens to vaccinate.

The Associated Press

Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso wears the presidential sash after his inauguration ceremony outside the National Assembly in Quito, Ecuador, Monday, May 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Ecuador’s El Comercio reported on Friday that conservative President Guillermo Lasso had lifted all mask mandates on April 28, announcing that the local epidemic of Chinese coronavirus was under control and celebrating record-high rates of citizens ingesting Chinese coronavirus vaccine products. Ecuador’s government has approved five coronavirus vaccine products for general use: two Chinese products by the firms Sinovac and CanSino, the Russian Sputnik V product, the European AstraZeneca product, and the Chinese-American Pfizer mRNA-based product.

Meeting this week, the COE and the Ecuadorian health minister agreed to impose a mandate “for all citizenry to use the mask obligatorily in enclosed spaces, poorly ventilated spaces, and where social distancing is not possible,” El Comercio relayed. The COE also recommended the use of sanitary masks outdoors in general, not only in crowded areas.

Notable in the announcement of new coronavirus protocols was the fact that Ruales, the health minister, admitted that public health officials had not documented any increase in coronavirus-related deaths and only a minor increase in hospitalizations. Severe cases of influenza, a virus family that humans have treated infections of for hundreds of years, were taken into consideration when reimposing the mask mandate.

“Although, at the beginning of this year, most severe infections were caused by [Chinese coronavirus] as a diagnosis, now the majority of patients, around 80 percent, have AH3N2 influenza,” the Argentine news outlet Infobae paraphrased Ruales as announcing. “Those most affected are children between the ages of 5 and 11 and senior citizens.”

El Comercio relayed that Ruales and the COE officials were documenting an increase in influenza cases that appeared to be related to easing of coronavirus restrictions since April.

“In the past two years of the pandemic, with biosecurity measures, isolation, and mask use, the population did not see itself largest affected and there was a diminution in these [respiratory] diseases,” El Comercio observed. “Currently, with the return to ‘normalcy’ and relaxing of measures, an increase in respiratory diseases is once again being documented as had occurred in years prior to the pandemic.”

In Quito, the return of a mask mandate also meant the return of street vendors selling sanitary masks to commuters on public transit who forgot theirs at home or no longer had one. One vendor, El Universo documented, sold about 200 masks during the morning commute in the capital on Friday from about 5:30 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

Local authorities deployed police to public transit stations to ensure that commuters were masked. The Ecuadorian newspaper noted, citing a senior security coordinator, noted that officers were instructed to ensure not just that commuters work masks, but that they wore them properly, covering their mouths and noses.

Ecuador is in the minority of nations reviving pandemic civil rights restrictions in 2022 and unique in citing an unrelated virus as part of the rationale for doing so. In the United States, some local governments have considered reinstating mask mandates and urged the use of masks on children, despite scientific evidence that lip-reading is essential for children to develop language skills. In Los Angeles, public health officials last week mulled the possibility of restoring a government mask mandate on the grounds that the number of documented coronavirus cases had increased. Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said last week that, should the number of cases rise to an official designation of “high,” the county would restore the mask mandate.

In New York, as in Ecuador, Gov. Kathy Hochul redirected concerns away from Chinese coronavirus to another pathogen in in October, advising parents to consider masking toddlers to avoid infections of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

“By now, kids are more socialized to the idea of wearing a mask. It’s not as strange to them, it not as if, ‘What is this all about?’” Hochul said, adding that “there’s a lot of cute masks out there.”

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