Things That Matter

Ecuador Is Struggling To Combat The Covid-19 Crisis As Victims Are Being Buried In Cardboard Boxes

Around the world, governments are trying to figure out how best to respond to the pandemic – often with limited resources and little planning. Hospitals and morgues are at capacity – or in many cases, overflowing with Covid-19 patients.

In Latin America, Ecuador has emerged as the epicenter of the Coronavirus pandemic. The country has been hit especially hard as the government struggles to respond to the growing crisis.

Many fear Ecuador could be a frightening sign of what’s to come as the virus begins to spread across Latin America, a region that so far has fewer cases than the US or Europe – but also has more severe shortages of doctors, hospital beds and ventilators.

Ecuador is giving a glimpse into the pandemic’s potential impact on Latin America.

Credit: Luis Perez / Getty Images

In Ecuador’s Guayas province, where the bustling city of Guayaquil is located, the crisis is so bad and hospitals and morgues so overwhelmed, that bodies are being left in the streets.

The unfolding disaster in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, offers an ominous look at what could soon spread to other parts of Latin America – where inequality, weak public services and fragile economies are common.

“What we’re seeing in Guayaquil is what can happen in most of South America’s large cities, where pockets of cosmopolitan richness coexist with widespread poverty,” said Alexandra Moncada, director of international aid organization CARE, in an interview with the New York Times.

A country of 17 million, Ecuador has one of the highest official rates of coronavirus infections, and deaths, per capita in Latin America.

Ecuador’s official coronavirus death count rose to 272 on Thursday, the latest number available — higher than its larger and more populous neighbors Peru and Colombia.

Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, has warned that the real figure is much higher, but that because testing is limited the true extent of infections is impossible to determine.

The government is working on measures to accommodate the growing number of fatalities, according to Reuters. They’re preparing an emergency burial ground on donated land in Guayaquil and plan to bury about 100 people a day in the area, which can accommodate about 2,000 plots. Space has also been made available at two public cemeteries in the area that can hold roughly 12,000 plots.

Meanwhile, hard-to-watch videos and images on social media show a growing humanitarian disaster that’s taking its toll on victim’s families.

Credit: Marcos Pin / Getty Images

With health services, cemeteries and funeral homes overstretched and a strict curfew restricting movement, collecting and burying the dead has become a critical problem in Guayaquil.

Videos posted on social media in recent days show families burying their loved ones in fields or keeping bodies in their homes for days as they wait for them to be collected by the authorities. Lines of vehicles with coffins in the trunks or strapped to roofs have also been seen forming outside cemeteries.

Relatives who have lost loved ones say burying their family members is as agonizing as trying to get them care.

Hundreds died at home, left in family living rooms for days before overworked coroners could retrieve their bodies. Those who perished in hospitals were put in chilled shipping containers that serve as makeshift morgues.

The lucky ones are placed in cardboard caskets because wooden coffins have become too expensive or scarce. Their relatives then wait for hours outside cemeteries in pickup trucks to bury their dead.

Authorities admit that the situation is out of control but that they’re committed to providing a “dignified burial.” However, the current crisis in Ecuador is a heartbreaking reminder of what many countries, especially across Latin America, are facing as the pandemic reaches their borders.

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