MEXICO CITY – Local authorities at a popular tourist destination in Ecuador prevented an airplane from landing, blocking an airport runway with more than a dozen vehicles, due to fear of the spread of the coronavirus.
On a video removed on board a helicopter that flew over the runway, cars, trucks and motorcycles can be seen strategically placed on the asphalt, preventing landing.
The mayor of Guayaquil, Cynthia Viteri, defended the decision to block a plane that was flying to Ecuador, in an attempt to repatriate Spaniards who were trapped there after the travel ban.
"How is it possible that you allow this team to remain in the city with the highest number of coronavirus cases?" Viteri asked during a virtual press conference, referring to the country's government. "It's criminal."
According to Viteri, the flight, operated by Iberia, originated in Madrid and was supposed to seek Spanish people in Guayaquil.
On Thursday, Viteri announced that she herself had also tested positive for the coronavirus.
"To my beloved children, who are discovering this now, they are not coming home, little ones," she said in a video posted on Twitter.
Of the 260 reported cases of COVID-19 in Ecuador on Thursday, 114 are in Guayaquil, which is the country's largest city and main port. President Lenín Moreno decreed a state of emergency, closing Ecuador's borders to all foreign travelers and declaring an evening curfew.
The incident at Guayaquil airport created tension in the government of Ecuador. The Ministry of Transport and Public Works has issued a declaration criticizing Viteri's actions, saying it made it difficult for foreign travelers to leave the country.
Minister of Transport Gabriel Martínez said currently cargo planes and empty aircraft to search foreigners currently trapped are allowed in the country.
The Iberia flight was empty, except for 11 crew members and was scheduled to receive about 150 passengers. A KLM flight also failed to make a scheduled stop in Guayaquil to catch 190 people.
Martínez said it was essential for public health to allow these planes to repatriate people. "If these passengers stay in Guayaquil or Quito, they could get sick and use the health services we need for Ecuadorians," said Martínez.
Both flights were diverted to Quito, the capital. Martínez posted videos of the two aircraft, empty, except the crew and pilots, some of whom wore masks and gloves.
Ecuador's prosecutor's office said was investigating the episode.
It is not the first time that authorities have closed an airport runway to block incoming aircraft. Earlier this week, President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, said he was trying to prevent a flight from Mexico City from landing. On board, there were 12 passengers who tested positive, according to Bukele.