As Covid-19 fears rise, authorities struggle to collect the bodies in Guayaquil

Apr 1, 2020 | 10 comments

Ecuador officials said Tuesday they are speeding up the collection of corpses in Guayaquil as delays related to the coronavirus epidemic have left families keeping their loved ones’ bodies in their homes for days.

Family members of the dead gather outside a Guayaquil funeral home that was rumored to be accepting bodies from a local morgue. (El Universo)

In some cases, bodies have been moved to sidewalks and in others neighbors burn tires in the street to mask the smell of decomposition.

Residents of the city, which is the epicenter of Ecuador’s Covid-19 outbreak, have complained for days of the difficulty of disposing of relatives’ remains due to strict quarantine and curfew measures and the fact that funeral homes ofen refuse to pick up bodies due to virus fears.

On Monday, city and national health ministry said it had removed more than 100 corpses but admits that more remain.

Especially troubling to health officers is that there is no count of how many of the Guayaquil dead are coronavirus victims. Interior Minister María Paula Romo said the government did not have enough tests to determine the causes of death in most cases and, without tests, autopies usually list heart and respiratory failure as the reasons.

Even if the government can’t determine the cause of death, Romo said, it is “unconscionable” that bodies are not collected in a timely manner. “There are health issues, not only for Covid-19 but other diseases associated with untreated bodies, but more important is the emotional stress on families who must keep the bodies longer than necessary,” she said.

Ecuador Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner added: “The government’s intention is that everyone who passes away these days in Guayaquil, not just those who have died from Covid-19, can have a dignified burial,”

The trauma for families does not end when the bodies are taken away, they say. As many as 25 bodies are in the morgue at the Guasmo Hospital and administrators there won’t say when they will be released for burial. “Because of the virus emergency we are not able to conduct the normal processing of the corpses and therefore cannot release them to the families,” an unnamed morgue worker said.

One woman said that the body of her father has been kept in the morgue for eight days with no explanation of when it will be released. “My family needs peace and until we can bury our father we will have none,” she said. “What in God’s name is going on here?” She was among 30 people waiting outside the morgue Tuesday afternoon.

Jorge Wated, in charge of the Army task force in charge of removing bodies in Guayaquil, said his personel are working as fast as they can under difficult circumstances. “We are surrounded by great emotion, great sadness but also by the smell of decaying bodies,” he says. “Most people assume that the dead are victims of coronaviurs but this is not true for most of the cases. There is great fear here.”

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