Indigenous race into Ecuador’s Amazon to escape coronavirus (Al Jazeera)

QUITO, ECUADOR – Nemonte Nenquimo, an Indigenous Waorani leader from Ecuador‘s Amazon rainforest, watched as her Indigenous colleagues, family and friends rushed back to their territory this past week, attempting to escape the threat of the coronavirus engulfing the region. Some travelled by car or bus, others flew by charter plane or travelled by boat upriver, deep into the rainforest where there are no roads.

Nenquimo stayed behind in the town of Shell, saying she has travelled too much, spoken to too many people and kissed too many cheeks over the past few weeks. It would be too risky to go back to her community now; if she were a silent carrier of COVID-19, it could be devastating to the Indigenous population there.

“We haven’t heard of any cases in the communities yet, that’s why it’s better to take care and protect them,” says Nenquimo, leader of the Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador Pastaza (CONCONAWEP).

“Now, it’s all under control, nobody can enter or leave the territories,” she adds.

Last week, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) closed all access to the rainforest, denying entrance to both tourists and Ecuadorian nationals. They also demanded that all oil, mining, hydroelectric and logging companies that operate in the rainforest stop rotating their personnel and bringing people in from the cities, and suspend all activities near communities, says CONFENIAE President Marlon Vargas.

If contagion reaches the Indigenous territory, “it would be an extermination of the Indigenous population of the Amazon basin,” says Vargas. This would include the 11 nationalities, over 500,000 Indigenous peoples, who currently live in Ecuador’s Amazon, he adds.

The Indigenous population grew more concerned after two cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in the Amazon region last week.

The first was in the northern province of Succumbios. A tourist travelling in the Cuyabeno nature reserve there tested positive for COVID-19. The other was identified in the southern province of Morona Santiago, where a resident of the city of Gualaquiza contracted the virus after their partner returned from Spain. Both patients were immediately quarantined, yet numbers in both provinces have since increased to six cases each.

Currently, there are more than 1,082 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Ecuador as of Tuesday, according to state figures. At least 27 people have died as a result of the virus. The vast majority of cases are in the coastal province of Guayas, where the largest city in the country, Guayaquil, is located.

Last week, the government declared a national state of emergency, ordering everyone to stay home unless they were buying food, medicine or going to work. Those who defy the order could face a fine of up to $6,000 or three years in prison. The government has also closed borders, cancelled all in and outbound international flights, prohibited national travel and implemented a strict nationwide 2pm curfew.

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(Photo Credit: Jeronimo Zuniga/Amazon Frontlines)

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