Ecuador, one of the smallest countries in South America, is dealing with what looks to be one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 in the world, with more than 3,100 identified infections as of writing.
The epicenter of the outbreak is Guayaquil, a port city with 2.8 million residents, where 2,243, or roughly 70 percent, of the cases nationwide have been registered.
Because of the outbreak, patients have since overloaded the city’s hospitals, resulting in multiple cases of possibly infected people dying in their homes. Exacerbating the problem, according to residents, is a nationwide curfew, as well as layers of bureaucratic red tape, both of which have caused undertakers to struggle with both the retrieval and disposal of the dead bodies.
In addition, many of the city's funeral homes are refusing to take the bodies out of fear of getting infected – a fear that residents say stems from the fact that the causes of death for many of the cases are unknown.
According to residents, this has since resulted in a grisly situation wherein the bodies of the dead lie untouched for up to several days, wrapped only in bed sheets and plastic as mourning relatives watch over them inside their houses.
Outside their homes, the situation is far more disturbing: Several bodies wrapped in plastic have been left on the streets, while plenty of others lay unclaimed in hospitals and clinics already burdened by the surge in infections.
At least 400 bodies have been recovered within the past few days, according to authorities.
Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri, who has also tested positive for COVID-19, bemoaned what she said was inaction from the federal government, noting that they should be responsible for collecting the bodies.
"They’re leaving them in the villages, they fall in front of hospitals," Viteri said in a separate message addressed to residents last week. "No one wants to recover them."
According to Viteri, all unclaimed bodies are now in the process of being stored in three refrigerated cargo containers, and the bodies will stay there while authorities pursue plans for a new cemetery. (Related: Expert warns that coronavirus can be spread through talking and even just BREATHING.)
As expected, however, public frustration and resentment regarding the piling-up of bodies is growing.
"People are asking that some authority takes charge of the dead, but the lack of response means they are being left in central streets of Guayaquil," stated Juan Carlos Freire, a lawyer in the city.
As a way to make their situation known to the rest of the world, many of Guayaquil’s citizens voiced their frustration on social media, where they uploaded disturbing images taken from within the city’s borders: bodies wrapped in sheets and dumped on the streets, plastic-wrapped caskets containing bodies, as well as troves of people crowding hospitals begging for staff to come to their houses and take the bodies of deceased relatives away.
Unfortunately for the city’s already embattled residents, the worst is still to come.
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, in a statement, acknowledged that there may be many more deaths than what is being reported officially, noting that the real figures always exceed the number of tests and the speed with which they are carried out.
According to Moreno, as many as 3,500 people could die of COVID-19 in and around Guayaquil.
Guayaquil political analyst Martha Roldós says one possible explanation for Ecuador’s high coronavirus cases – in addition to the scaled-back work by state epidemiologists – is the high levels of air traffic between the Latin American country and Spain, which, aside from having the world’s third-highest death toll from the disease, is also home to more than 400,000 Ecuadorian migrants.
"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.
Despite the negative developments within her city’s borders, Viteri, in a post on Twitter, said that she will continue working as long as she can to "protect Guayaquilenos in a moment as difficult as this one."
"I will be where I am and how I am. Don’t leave your houses, protect the elderly and the weakest, and take care of each other," Viteri stated.
As of this writing, the dreaded COVID-19 has claimed more than 59,000 lives and has infected over one million more throughout the globe.