Corpses Lie For Days As Ecuador Struggles To Keep Up With COVID-19 Deaths

Apr 3, 2020
Originally published on April 3, 2020 2:26 pm

Ecuador is one of the smallest countries in South America but it is dealing with one of the region's worst outbreaks of COVID-19, with more than 3,100 identified infections and 120 deaths.

The epicenter of the country's outbreak is the Pacific port city of Guayaquil, where bodies are lying in the streets.

Guayaquil has registered about half of all Ecuador's coronavirus cases and patients have overwhelmed the city's hospitals. In addition, a nationwide curfew and bureaucratic red tape have hindered the work of undertakers.

As a result, the bodies of people who have died in their homes due to COVID-19 and other illnesses often lie for days, wrapped in bed sheets and plastic and decomposing in the tropical heat as relatives watch over them.

That's what happened to Víctor Morandé, a 38-year-old Guayaquil resident who died of respiratory failure. In an interview with the local Ecuavisa TV station, the victim's cousin Keyla Reyes was distraught.

"He's been dead for four days," said Reyes, who was nearly overcome by the stench and moved the body to the sidewalk. "We have been calling the police but no one comes."

Jonathan Escalante, a city health worker, told journalists that one of the bodies he had been dispatched to collect had been in the custody of relatives for a week.

"We acknowledge any errors and apologize to those who had to wait days for their loved ones to be taken away," Jorge Wated, who leads a government task force in Guayas province where Guayaquil is located, said in a televised speech Wednesday.

Still, even Guayaquil's mayor, Cynthia Viteri, seemed shocked by the apocalyptic scenes of cadavers in the streets. "What is happening to the public health system in this country?" she demanded.

A man wearing a face mask waits for the corpse of a relative outside a hospital in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Ecuadorians express outrage over the way the government has responded to the number of deaths from COVID-19. Many suspect there are more deaths than the official count.
Enrique Ortiz / AFP via Getty Images

One problem, says Guayaquil political analyst Martha Roldós, is that over the past decade, government epidemiologists have scaled back their work amid budget cuts. In addition, the city sends thousands of migrant workers and exchange students to Italy and Spain, two of the countries hardest hit by the new coronavirus.

"A lot of people were returning to Ecuador to stay on vacation with their families. So there were a lot of people coming from Italy and Spain," Roldós said.

In a speech Thursday, President Lenín Moreno warned that as many as 3,500 people could die of COVID-19 in and around Guayaquil. But he said he had sent a special task force to Guayaquil to collect the bodies and pledged to build a new cemetery to hold them.

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