Although the government says Covid-19 is only one of the factors responsible for the soaring death rate in Guayaquil and Guayas Province, local officials disagree. “The number of deaths here is of historic proportions and there is only one explanation, and that’s the coronavirus,” says Guayaquil doctor Gustavo Quinde.
On Thursday, Jorge Wated director of a joint military and police task force that has been collecting and burying bodies since the end of March, reported that there have been 6,703 deaths in Guayas Province from April 1 to April 15. “The usual monthly average of deaths in Guayas is 2,000, so the number has tripled in only half a month,” he said. “These are official deaths with certificates registered with the Civil Registry.”
To Quinde, the recent numbers are “off the charts” and indicate a far higher Covid-19 fatality rate than reported by the government. On Thursday, the official death count in Guayas Province was 187. “Going back to the last weeks of March, there could be 4,000 or 5,000 virus deaths in Guayaquil,” Quinde said. “We are suffering an extraordinary contagion that is not being reported.”
The Health Ministry agrees that its testing has missed many, probably the majority of cases, but cannot explain the high death rate. Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos says the situation in Guayas is exceptional but suggests it’s necessary to collect more data to explain the number. Two weeks ago, he said that most of the deaths that occurred in private homes were the result of causes other than Covid-19.
The president of the Guayas Medical College, Javier Carrillo, demands that the government increase its testing immediately and provide more resources and says there is no other explanation for the high death rate than the virus. “Is there some other terrible disease here that hasn’t been discovered?” he asks. “Almost all the causes of these deaths correspond to coronavirus symptoms, respiratory failure, yet the government is not acknowledging the horrific toll the outbreak is taking on the people of Gauyaquil. The under-reporting of the cause of fatalities is happening on a scale we have never seen before.”
Wated said that since Monday, there is a decline in the number of deaths in the province. “The deaths reported by hospitals and burials are declining, which is a very good sign,” he said, although he acknowledged that almost 700 bodies remain to be buried.
According to Carrillo, the discrepancy between the official Covid-19 death count indicates an “inexcusable failure” on the part of the government. “I understand that we do not have enough tests, but the fact that we have thousands of deaths and the official count is less than 200 needs an explanation,” he says. “It also demands a plan of action that does not currently exist.”
Carrillo and others say the virus is disproportionatly affecting poor people. “The vast majority of deaths are happening in the poorer neighbohoods of Guayaquil where people have substandard housing,” he says. “The government talks about protecting the vulnerable and poor populations but they have failed terribly in Guayaquil.”