Nearly 800 bodies of coronavirus victims were removed from Guayaquil accommodation by a special force created by the government. The city is overwhelmed by its dead.
Guayaquil, the economic capital of Ecuador, is suffering from devastating chaos in the management of the new coronavirus, and has become one of the Latin American cities most affected by the pandemic.
For days, hundreds of corpses were left at home, even in the streets, wrapped in black plastic. Funeral services were overwhelmed and the health sector, lacking funds and personnel, collapsed.
The stench of death floats around hospitals. In front of the cemeteries are formed long lines of vehicles loaded with cardboard coffins.
An official announced on Sunday (April 12th) that nearly 800 corpses had been removed from Guayaquil housing by a special force made up of police and soldiers and created by the government.
“The number (of bodies) we have collected in homes with the special force has exceeded 700,” said force chief Jorge Wated. Shortly after, this official indicated on his Twitter account that the number of corpses collected in homes was now 771, to which are added 631 bodies which were in hospitals, whose morgues are full.
And the worst is yet to come: the authorities of this small country of 17.5 million inhabitants predict up to 3,500 deaths from the Covid-19.
Lots of exchanges with Spain and Italy
The province of Guayas, of which Guayaquil is the capital, concentrates 73% of the nearly 7,500 cases, including at least 333 deaths confirmed Sunday at the national level since February 29.
“The mistakes made cannot be repeated! ” Said Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner, who hails from this city of 2.7 million people, and who leads the government’s fight against the virus.
The port of Guayaquil, on the Pacific coast (south-west), appeared from the start as a particularly vulnerable point: it was there that the first Ecuadorian case was detected, an old lady returned from Spain.
In Spain and Italy, countries very affected by the pandemic, live half a million Ecuadorians, many of whom migrated during the financial crisis of the 1990s.
The flow of exchanges between Guayaquil, Europe and also the United States is intense, especially in February and March, during school holidays.
Ecuador “reacted late,” Daniel Simancas, epidemiologist at the Equinoxial Technological University (UTE) in Quito, told AFP.
Lack of strategy and delays
This had the “devastating consequences we have seen. The authorities themselves have apologized for the lack of strategies in the management of corpses, of forecasting in the supply of medical materials, ” he added.
There were also delays in purchasing tests, with a weak epidemiological surveillance plan. The “broth” social Guayaquil aggravated the crisis.
Although Guayas is the most productive province in the country, its capital has a poverty rate of 11.2%, according to official figures for December.
Unemployment and underemployment affect 20% of the working population. “People want to go out to work and this is due to (…) informal employment,” economist Alberto Acosta Burneo of the Spurrier firm told AFP.
Sociologist Carlos Tutiven, of Casa Grande University, also from Guayaquil, points to the “model of economic development” of this city, which resisted the socialism of ex-president Rafael Correa (2007-2017), made of social investments and high debt.
No formula has “been powerful enough to solve the inequity” where rich villas and shanty towns are located.
In Guayas, nearly 3,300 people have violated the government-imposed 15-hour curfew.
Despite the soldiers deployed in the streets, it is common to see street vendors there, without masks, and queues in front of the shops, without the recommended distance.
Many inhabitants with very precarious conditions
The sociologist highlights a “weakness” of information on precautionary measures, adding that “not everyone can be obedient or disciplined because the vast majority live in very precarious conditions” .
“Locking yourself in a four square meter apartment, a room where there are four, five, six people, is suffocating,” he told AFP.
According to the UTE epidemiologist, the poor were not the only ones who did not stay at home: “Many families with a lot of money and power have underestimated the power of this virus and have not not respected quarantine measures ” .
Much criticized, the government of President Lenin Moreno and the local authorities have admitted serious flaws.
Mayor Cynthia Viteri, herself contaminated and recovered, acknowledged the guilt of “everyone” .
“We see our dead fall in silence every day; we hear the neighbor cry for her deceased loved one (…) a pregnant woman who has no hospital to give birth to, and a hundred people have died from being unable to do dialysis. “
“Here, it is not only the health system that has collapsed, but also the funeral services and the morgues,” she said.