Boxes containing the first batch of Chinese-developed Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines are seen at an airport in Quito, Ecuador on April 7, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

QUITO – Ecuador has received the first batch of vaccines from Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac to protect against the novel coronavirus disease.

The vaccine arrived Wednesday on a commercial flight at Mariscal Sucre International Airport in the capital Quito, where the plane was received with a water salute, a time-honored tradition in aviation to greet or send off important flights and express gratitude.

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno welcomed the arrival of the CoronaVac vaccine, along with Foreign Affairs Minister Manuel Mejia and Chinese Ambassador to Ecuador Chen Guoyou.

Wednesday’s cargo marked the largest shipment of COVID-19 vaccine received by the South American country to date to boost its national immunization campaign.

“This fills us with optimism and it fills us with hope,” Moreno expressed his joy at the cargo’s arrival.

Ecuador is one of the Latin American countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with about 340,000 cases of infection and 12,158 deaths from the disease.

Mejia told Xinhua this “is a historic day” for Ecuador, since it began to receive large quantities of vaccine to move the national vaccination plan forward.

“We are very happy because it is the beginning of the recovery, so it is a really important day,” Mejia said, noting that the ties of friendship and cooperation between the two countries have made the arrival of vaccine possible.

Ambassador Chen said it was a very special and important day in bilateral ties, anti-epidemic cooperation, and the nationwide vaccination drive, noting that since the outbreak of the pandemic, leaders of the two countries had sent each other letters and messages, and spoken by phone to show mutual support in the fight against the coronavirus.

Bilateral cooperation “has seen new advances and fruits” in the framework of the pandemic, in which China has supported Ecuador with health supplies such as negative-pressure ambulances, ventilators and face masks, Chen added.