One South American country reporting just over 500 deaths related to the coronavirus may have a much-higher death rate, The New York Times analysts say.
Ecuador, a country with just over 17 million people, has reported more than 11,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus with 560 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data.
However the country could be suffering one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the world if analysis of mortality data by The New York Times is correct.
About 7,600 more people this year have died between March 1 to April 15 than the usual average, the Times said, yet only some 500 deaths had been attributed to COVID-19.
The New York Times isn’t the only publication to speculate whether the official numbers are to be believed.
Jorge Wated is leading a government task force collecting and burying bodies in Ecuador’s outbreak epicentre of Guayaquil.
According to National Public Radio (NPR), Mr Wated said from April 1 to 15, 6703 people had died, the cause of death either being COVID-19 or natural causes.
He said before the coronavirus pandemic, the monthly average was about 1000.
Even Ecuador’s president Lenín Moreno conceded the number of cases and deaths may be higher than what is being reported back on April 2.
“We know that both the number of infections and the number of deaths are falling short,” the president said, according to The New York Times.
Just last week China revised the number of COVID-19 fatalities in Wuhan, ground-zero for the outbreak, after months of speculation numbers were being suppressed.
The revision was justified by the government, saying due to overrun hospitals during the outbreak, “there were late reports, missed reports, and false positives”, state media reported.
Cardboard coffins and missing loved ones
Across the globe, countries and cities hit hard by the COVID-19 struggled to cope, resulting in overrun hospitals and overwhelmed funeral homes.
Ecuador is no exception.
Alfonso Cedeño died at a crowded hospital in Guayaquil, where the only bed doctors could offer was an ambulance stretcher, The Associated Press reported.
Two weeks later, Mr Cedeño’s family could not find his body.
“My uncle is nowhere to be found,” Alfonso Mariscal said.
The Associated Press reported ‘a hundred’ died in their homes, the corpses remain there until overworked coroners could pick up the bodies.
Chilled shipping containers served as makeshift morgues for those who died in hospital.
Families wanting to bury their loved ones have had to search through body bags at morgues, while the government says they are now quick to pick up and bury the dead.
Cardboard coffins are being used instead of wooden ones, which have become scarce and too expensive.
The government has set up a website to alert family members where their loved ones are being buried, but until the health emergency is declared to be over, no one is allowed to visit the cemeteries.
About one quarter of the population in Ecuador earns less than US$85 (about A$130) a month. Along with the health crisis, the South American country is in crippling debt.
– with Associated Press
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