COVID-19: Bodies lie on the streets of Guayaquil

April 4, 2020

COVID-19 is impacting nations around the globe. Governments’ policies to prevent the spread of the virus are challenged while the number of deaths and contagions increases every day at a fast pace. In Latin America, Ecuador has become the epicenter of COVID-19, and the country is suffering a devastating reality; families are unable to bury their relatives, and even worse, some have to remain with the corpses for more than 48 hours due to the collapse of the public services.

Ecuador registered its first COVID-19 case on February 29. It was a woman of 71 years old that arrived from Spain. In an interview, her brother in law stated that she presented symptoms, while at the same time, he questioned the government's ability to test and track possible cases of contagion (El Comercio, 2020). In the middle of the pandemic, on March 21, the Health Minister of Ecuador Catalina Andramuño renounced after reporting seven deaths and 532 confirmed cases of COVID-19. In a letter to President Lenin Boltaire Moreno Garces, the former Minister argument “…During the COVID-19 crisis, the technical and medical postulates to confront the virus did not find an echo in many instances of the government; … the imposition of officials who do not know about public health and the reality of this situation is unacceptable....The Ministry of Health has been preparing since December 2019, for this crisis, however, facing a health emergency without resources is impossible.” (El Comercio, 2020).

The lack of resources to attend patients of COVID-19 and leadership knowledgeable of public health contributes to Ecuador's health crisis. The country has become the hot spot of COVID-19 in Latin America. On April 3, the country's official reported 145 deaths, an increase of 25 new losses in the last 24 hours (El Heraldo, 2020). The number had been questioned by Ecuadorians who pointed out that there are hundredths who died by COVID-19 at homes or due to need of medical attention in the overcrowded hospitals.

There is a rising number of Ecuadorians that had to stay with their family members corpses at home for more than 48 hours waiting for the government officials for collection. Due to the lack of resources, mobility restrictions, and social panic, citizens in Guayaquil are placing the corpses of victims of COVID-19 in the streets. Some said that the reason is “the strict quarantine and curfew measures designed to prevent the spread of the virus,” for which Ecuadorians are under mobility restriction and face-to-face work suspension until March 31. (Reuters, 2020). Also, the government applied a curfew, then Ecuadorian must stay at home from 2.00 pm to 5.00 am (El Universo, 2020).

According to BBC News Mundo, the COVID-19 crisis in Ecuador has many peculiarities. To start, Guayaquil is a city with high inequality with hundredths of poor people and rich Ecuadorians. The rich routinely travel to Spain and other countries for work and return home to visit families. The virus arrived at Ecuador several months before the government considers reacting to COVID-19 reality, like many other South American countries. Also, the curfew was not immediately obeyed by the impoverished people that live on the coast. The coast of Ecuador is marked by tropical weather combined with an outgoing culture that makes social isolation a hard practice. It could explain why the coast did not promptly obey the lockdown. Social isolation policies must address this disparity since the same message is not reaching everyone.

Moreover, social panic is another distinctiveness in Ecuador. Due to the COVID-19, in Guayaquil, several owners of funeral homes closed their business for fear of contagion. The increase of deaths for the coronavirus and other illnesses increased, surpassing the supply of these services. The outcome was also displayed with the corpses remaining in the streets. After the repercussion of the Ecuador health crisis, President Moreno said that he would construct a “special camp” for coronavirus victims. Also, the government official acknowledged that cases of COVID-19 are increasing and forecast that in the province of Guayas, the number of deaths will reach 2500 to 3500 (Reuters, 2020).

Ecuador must be a lesson for governments in Latin America. Ecuador has several similarities to its neighbors' countries, starting from culture, lifestyle, religious beliefs to limited health services capacity and infrastructure. Governments in Latin America must learn from Ecuador and anticipate actions to prevent COVID-19 spread. Nevertheless, above all, they need to improve their medical capacities to avoid the painful experience that Ecuador is living.


About Author(s)

Marilu Nunez Palomino
Marilu Nunez Palomino is a graduate student of Public and International Affairs with a major in International Political Economy at the University of Pittsburgh. She has a Master's Degree in Accounting for the FEA-USP in Brazil. Currently, she is doing research on International Trade and Mental Health in the Americas.