Ecuador Mayor Orders Cars to Park on Runway to Stop Planes Arriving in Panic Over Coronavirus

Video shared widely on social media has shown the lengths one mayor in Ecuador has taken to stop planes from arriving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cynthia Viteri said she ordered municipal workers, including police, to make their way onto the runway of José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil so their vehicles could stop planes from KLM and Iberia from landing.

In footage filmed by helicopter and shared on social media, the workers are seen standing next to their municipal vehicles parked on either side of the runway, forcing the planes to divert to the country's capital, Quito.

▶️#IMPORTANTE Con autos de AMT y Policía Municipal la Alcaldía de #Guayaquil irrumpió operaciones del aeropuerto José Joaquín de Olmedo, para evitar el aterrizaje de aviones que iban a recoger pasajeros extranjeros. #LoQueNoVeranEnLaPrensa

— Ecuadorinmediato (@ecuainm_oficial) March 18, 2020

The dramatic move came after the government announced increased border restrictions but said flights could take visitors home, or repatriate local citizens.

In a virtual press conference on Wednesday, Viteri defended her actions and questioned why the country's Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner and Transport Minister Gabriel Martínez allowed the planes to land, which in her view endangered the city's residents, El Comercio reported.

Guayaquil, the country's largest city, has been the most affected by the coronavirus and Viteri, who ran for president in 2017, said that restrictions on entry and exit to the city sanctioned by the government, had justified her actions.

Referring to the Iberia plane which had no passengers, she said: "There were no fewer than 11 crew members arriving from Madrid, who were going to stay in a hotel in Guayaquil until they could take off on Friday. How is it possible that the plane was going to be allowed to land today so that they could stay in the city with the highest number of coronavirus cases?"

She described it as a "criminal" move, especially considering that the first case in the South American country had originated from Spain, El Comercio reported.

Cynthia Viteri
Cynthia Viteri, is pictured here in February 2017 when she was an Ecuadorean presidential candidate. Now mayor of Guayaquil, she ordered cars to park on the city airport runway to prevent two planes from landing, due to her fears for the spread of the coronavirus. RODRIGO BUENDIA/Getty Images

She also criticized the government for allowing 200 foreigners from other provinces of Ecuador to come to her city for repatriation, saying it was "exposing our airport staff," and "exposing the city of Guayaquil" to the virus.

The government has distanced itself from her actions and flights are expected to continue.

The country's state attorney office said in a statement it was investigating the legality of her action. She also faced criticism from the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works which said in a statement it rejected "any attempt at violence on the country's international airstrips," and said she had prevented 200 people from flying home on the KLM plane. Newsweek has contacted Viteri's office for comment.

The graph by Statista below outlines the global spread of COVID-19.

coronavirus, map, covid-19, countries, world
A graphic provided by Statista shows the global spread of the new coronavirus as of March 18. More than 210,000 have been afflicted, 83,000 of whom have recovered and 8,700 have died. Statista

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

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  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
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Medical advice

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  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.

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