QUITO – The rapid spread of the coronavirus in Ecuador’s Guayas province, the capital of which is Guayaquil, one of the world’s cities hardest-hit on a per capita basis by COVID-19, has created a dire situation where the corpses of the dead are not being buried, although authorities are trying to resolve that dilemma.
The coronavirus has overwhelmed health authorities in Guayas, where 52 of the 79 coronavirus fatalities in Ecuador have occurred, leading the Lenin Moreno government this week to launch a Joint Task Force and begin coordinating the collection of bodies.
Jorge Wated, the head of the Task Force, said that at this time the presence of bodies in homes “is linked with the slim capability the city’s funeral homes have to provide their services in connection with Guayaquil’s cemeteries.”
With the main funeral parlors overburdened with work, now other – generally smaller – mortuary businesses are refusing to handle the dead because they often cannot be sure how they died and workers there are afraid of becoming infected with the virus.
Added to this is the difficulty imposed by the nationwide curfew, which prevails for 15 hours a day from 2 pm to 5 am and is complicating burial tasks, a problem that authorities are trying to solve by extending the working hours of some funeral businesses.
The new Task Force is seeking to facilitate the tasks of funeral homes, prevent people from going out on the streets and providing the proper documentation so that families can bury their dead themselves, if they so desire.
But there are still bodies that families prefer for the authorities to collect. On Monday and Tuesday, “we buried about 50 people,” Wated told EFE.
The pain and grief over the deaths in Guayas is compounded with the impossibility of burying in a timely way many of the infected people who have died in their homes, where they had isolated themselves and ultimately succumbed.
“What’s happening to the country’s public health system? They’re not removing the dead from the homes, they’re leaving them on the sidewalks, they’re out in front of hospitals, nobody wants to go to collect them,” Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri said last weekend from her home, where she is self-isolating because she is one of the ones infected with COVID-19.
She echoed the complaints of many local residents in the press and on the social networks who are clamoring for the authorities to remove the bodies from homes, while others, deep in grief, are begging for the bodies of their deceased loved ones who died in hospitals days ago to be returned.
The “significant delay” in picking up the corpses has spurred people to take to the social networks to beg for help, some of them posting videos that have been shown to be fake.
“The cases that they’re reporting to us, mainly on the social networks, are telling us that they’ve been waiting for four or five days” for bodies to be removed, Wated said.
Ecuadorian authorities know of 79 people who have died from COVID-19, but they suspect that another 67 deaths could be linked to the coronavirus. However, the true total cannot be determined because no autopsies are being conducted and there are no rapid testing kits to detect the virus in Ecuador.
An average of about 40 people die of natural causes each day in Guayaquil.
The government is trying to resolve the body-collection dilemma with the help of the police, the army and other institutions.
Wated said that the bodies of about 310 people – who died from assorted causes – have been collected in Guayaquil over the past week.
Guayas province, with 3.6 million residents, has seen 1,615 of Ecuador’s official coronavirus tally of 2,302 cases with 1,116 in the city of Guayaquil.
President Moreno has, for now at least, cancelled the initial plan to create a common grave in which to bury the coronavirus dead, saying that such a plan did not seem dignified.
On Tuesday, the authorities had about 115 pending requests to remove bodies from local homes and to issue death certificates.