Authorities in Ecuador’s biggest city are distributing thousands of cardboard coffins and have created a helpline for families who need corpses to be removed from their homes.
“It looks like a warzone hospital. The things we have seen are straight out of a horror film,” a doctor at the Teodoro Maldonado Carbo hospital, one of city’s biggestfacilities, told the Guardian. “My wife doesn’t want me to go to work. But if I don’t, more patients will die.”
On Saturday Ecuador’s health ministry said it had registered 172 Covid-19 deaths, 122 of them in Guayas province, of which Guayaquil is the capital. Low testing rates mean the true figure is almost certainly higher. Ecuador has officially registered 3,465 coronavirus cases, the third highest number in South America after Brazil and Chile.
One regional politician, Carlos Luis Morales, told CNN en Español that officials had been instructed not to divulge statistics about the death toll in Guayas. But he added: “Just to give you an idea, 480 death certificates have been issued since yesterday. One hundred and fifty bodies are being collected each day.”
Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, has said up to 3,500 people could die in Guayas in the coming weeks, while Guayaqyuil’s city hall said on Saturday that it would hand out 2,000 cardboard coffins “to offer a dignified burial to those who die during this health emergency”.
Jorge Wated, the official leading Guayaqyuil’s response to the crisis, announced the creation of a WhatsApp hotline for victims. “Attention: those who require the removal of the deceased from their homes can write to us on this number,” he tweeted.
Ecuador’s government has faced criticism for its response to coronavirus and failure to effectively enforce a quarantine in Guayaquil as the infection spread.
“When the virus appeared in China, we would thought it would never reach here,” Morales told CNN en Español. “Now it’s in all of us. We are breathing it. It’s in the atmosphere.”
Ecuador’s vice-president, Otto Sonnenholzner, offered a televised apology to the nation on Saturday for the gruesome images coming out of Guayaquil showing corpses dumped on pavements or outside homes.
“I give you my word that I am doing everything in my power to save the greatest number of lives possible,” Sonnenholzner said. “This crisis isn’t about left or right. Rich or poor. This virus doesn’t care for religion, race or social status. All it seeks to do is spread. Its transmission risk is something never before seen by humanity.”