WARNING – DISTRESSING CONTENT: A country has adopted extreme measures to store bodies of coronavirus victims as hospitals and morgues reach full capacity.
Images of dire scenes from the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador's biggest city, have shown wrapped bodies laying in public view as authorities struggle to keep up with more than 100 daily deaths.
Relatives have reported waiting days for the bodies of their loved ones to be collected, with the stench fast becoming unbearable.
“We have been waiting for five days,” one man named Fernando Espana said in a video obtained by Reuters on March 30.
“We are tired of calling 911 and the only thing they tell us is to wait, they are working to solve this.”
In the video, Mr Espana moved the camera through a window and pointed it in the direction of a figure wrapped in plastic with two fans blowing on it.
“It's the odour from the body that one can no longer handle,” he said.
More than 100 bodies a day
Ecuador has confirmed 318 deaths from the virus, one of the highest tallies in Latin America, but President Lenin Moreno said the actual figure was higher.
He said this was due to authorities collecting more than 100 bodies a day, many from relatives' homes, as a strict quarantine prevented them from being buried.
The government has installed three containers, the largest about 12 metres long, at public hospitals to preserve bodies until graves were prepared, according to Guayaquil's mayor Cynthia Viteri.
So far 150 victims have been buried in a private cemetery in the port city.
At Guayaquil's Teodoro Maldonado Carbo hospital on Saturday (local time), medical workers wearing protective gear removed bodies wrapped in plastic from a storage room and used a pallet to wheel them to one container, according to a Reuters photographer.
“This pandemic is overcoming the capacity of our hospital services,” the hospital said in a statement on Friday (local time).
On Saturday, Ecuador's government said it would activate a new digital system that would allow families to find out where their dead relatives were buried.
‘Special camp’ for COVID-19 bodies
Mr Moreno said the government expected the total number of deaths in Guayaquil's surrounding province to reach up to 3500, and said a “special camp” was being built to bury the dead.
Medical experts have warned that as many as 3500 people could die of the coronavirus in the city and the surrounding province in the coming months.
Rosa Romero, 51, lost her husband, Bolivar Reyes, and had to wait a day for his body to be removed from their home.
A week later, amid the chaos of the city's mortuary system, she does not know where it is.
“In the forensic bureau they told us that they had taken him to the Guasmo Hospital. We went there to find him, but he was not registered anywhere,” Ms Romero told AFP.
A 15-hour curfew government-imposed in the city makes further searching difficult.
Government spokesman Jorge Wated earlier this week apologised for the distress caused by the delay in authorities being able to collect bodies.
“We acknowledge any errors and apologise to those who had to wait days for their loved ones to be taken away,” Mr Wated said on Wednesday (local time).
“The medical experts unfortunately estimate that deaths from COVID in these months will reach between 2500 and 3500 — in the province of Guayas alone, and we are preparing for that.”
Locals must abide by a strict curfew requiring them to stay inside between the hours of 4pm and 5am, with officials threatening serious penalties if people are caught flouting the rules.
Autopsies have been restricted and the government, which has banned funeral services, initially insisted that COVID-19 victims be cremated, but was forced to relent after a public backlash.
“We are working so that each person can be buried with dignity in one-person spaces,” Mr Wated said.
– With Reuters and AFP
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