It is unclear how many of those who died died of Covid-19. Many families say their loved ones had symptoms of the virus, while others only know that the sick could not be treated in the overwhelmed Guayaquil hospitals.
“We waited five days,” said Fernando Espana in a video Reuters received on March 30 when he complained about the difficulty that the authorities were picking up his family member.
“We are tired of calling 91
The smell is too much to endure. “It is the smell of the body that you can no longer handle,” says Espana’s neighbor Glenda Larrea Vera in the same video, from across the street and behind a mask. “And we also have older neighbors. I have my mother, who is 80 years old and also has breathing problems.”
CNN’s video surveillance last week shows a motorcyclist leaving a body on the road. Hours later you see a group of people in special protective suits who pick up the deceased and then drive off in a vehicle.
In another CNN video, a group of people removes a body from a car. Covered with face masks, they wrap their bodies in what appears to be a black tarpaulin when a police vehicle approaches minutes later. A conversation takes place and the group puts the body back in the car. The police inform CNN that they cannot offer details about the video.
National numbers show that between March 23 and 30, the Ecuadorian authorities collected more than 300 bodies from private homes in the city, which according to the CIA Factbook has a population of 2.99 million.
The city is on the Guayas River and is the nation’s main port. Brittanica.com calls it the country’s most economically important city.
Jorge Wated, head of a joint military task force set up to deal with the coronavirus crisis in Ecuador, said on a television interview on Wednesday that his task force had gone from “30 deaths a day to 150” in the past three days. Wated added that this was “independent of the hard work reactivated by the country’s private funeral homes and cemeteries.”
Guayaquil’s Mayor Cynthia Viteri has desperately asked for help from the national government in a video posted on her Twitter account last week. “What happens in the country’s public health system? They don’t take the dead out of the houses, they drop them on the sidewalks, they drop in front of hospitals. Nobody wants to pick them up,” she said, adding later, “We need to know the causes, why people die in their homes. “
“What happens to our sick people too?” She adds. “The families roam the city knocking on doors so they can be taken care of or that a public hospital receives them where there are no more beds. They close the door and leave it outside.”
With hospitals that go beyond capacity, some people die while waiting for medical care. A Guayaquil woman died in a hospital wheelchair waiting to be seen in an emergency room. According to a source from the hospital who did not want to be identified, no beds were available and her body was left out for almost four hours before being taken away. The cause of death was not determined.
As of Friday, the Department of Risk and Emergency Management in Ecuador reports 3,368 confirmed coronavirus cases and 145 deaths across the country, of which 102 were registered in Guayas province, where Guayaquil is located. However, some citizens are concerned that confirmed positive cases of infection are higher than reported by the government of Ecuador and are calling for action. This is also happening in other countries as delays and lack of testing lead to frustration.
President Lenin Moreno, during a speech to the nation on Thursday, called for transparency at all levels of government regarding the numbers caused by the crisis. “It is important to tell the truth,” said Moreno, adding that “both the number of deaths and the number of deaths are insufficient.”
Wated, the head of the task force, said experts in Guayas alone are expecting between 2,500 and 3,500 deaths in the coming months.
Several containers have arrived in Guayaquil to serve as temporary morgues to accommodate the influx of corpses and the authorities are planning to make room for “worthy burials”.
But at the moment, some of the people living in Guayaquil are trapped in a nightmare without the opportunity to mourn their loved ones, not even through a proper funeral.
CNNE’s Ana Maria Cañizares in Quito, Ecuador, Kay Guerrero and Mallory Gafas in Atlanta contributed to this report.