Ecuador’s health system buckles under coronavirus: Morgues full, dead piled up in bathrooms
05/01/2020 / By Ralph Flores / Comments
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Ecuador’s health system buckles under coronavirus: Morgues full, dead piled up in bathrooms

Ecuador reported 259 new coronavirus cases and 17 deaths between April 29 and 30, bringing the country’s total caseload to 24,934 and 900 deaths. In a televised announcement, Interior Minister Paula Romo said that the official figure does not include 1,453 deaths that were likely caused by COVID-19, but were listed as respiratory conditions, as the patients had no access to diagnostic tests.

In addition, a total of 69,054 tests have been conducted to date. Among those infected with COVID-19, 20,191 are in stable condition, and around 479 remain hospitalized. Guayaquil, the country’s main port city, and the surrounding Guayas province, is the country’s epicenter, with 10,436 confirmed cases.

Guayaquil’s healthcare system collapses

Health workers in Guayaquil, in particular, are confronted with the horrors of working in a city that’s been stretched to the limit. Hospitals in the city are inundated with new cases of COVID-19 patients, and with morgues already filled beyond capacity, some have piled up bodies in bathrooms.

The situation has become so grave that doctors have been forced to wrap up and store corpses, so they can reuse the beds they died on, a medic told Agence France-Presse.

A male nurse, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the outbreak has affected him professionally and personally. When news of the coronavirus reaching Ecuador broke out in March, nurses went from caring for 15 patients to around 30 – practically overnight.

“So many people arrived that… they were practically dying in our hands,” the nurse added.

Some hospitals discharged non-COVID-19 patients or referred them to other facilities, so they can accommodate coronavirus patients. In operating rooms, hospital administrators swapped anesthesia machines with ventilators.

“People are alone, sad, the treatment wreaks havoc on the gastrointestinal tract, some defecate; they feel bad and think they will always feel that way, and they see that the person next to them starts to suffocate and scream that they need oxygen,” said the nurse. (Related: Apocalyptic scene now unfolding in Ecuador amid surge in coronavirus cases.)

Morgues are also suffering the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. With many morgues in Guayaquil filled beyond capacity, hospitals have had to wrap up bodies and store them in bathrooms. Morgue staff only collected the bodies when they are “stacked up to seven [people] high.” A female colleague, who was also a nurse, confirmed the situation.

“There were many dead in the bathrooms, many lying on the floors, many dead in armchairs,” she told AFP.

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno has acknowledged that actual deaths due to the coronavirus could be higher than those recorded in official tallies.

“We think there will be between 2,500 and 3,500 people who will die from COVID in these months in Guayas alone,” he said in a nationwide speech in April. “Today we certainly have tens of thousands of contagions and hundreds of lives cut short by this virus.”

Rest of the country reports fewer cases

Despite the chaos that has befallen Guayaquil, Moreno noted that the number of new cases has stabilized, and death counts were falling. In a televised speech, the president reported that hospitals were seeing fewer patients and had increased the number of available intensive care beds. The government has also drummed up plans to deliver food supplies to the country’s vulnerable population.

“We have dealt with the health emergency, and we will keep doing so, but now we will deal a lot more actively with the humanitarian emergency,” Moreno added.

The government is expected to unveil its plans to reopen its economy, as well as allow citizens stranded abroad to return home. On May 4, the government will assign each province a traffic-light color — red, yellow and green — to indicate the stringency of the lockdown measure in the area.

While red areas will remain under lockdown, online delivery services would be relaxed. Those in yellow and green regions will have transport restrictions partially lifted, curfew hours scaled back and up to 70 percent of employees allowed to return to work. Moreno warned, however, that these regions can be placed under lockdown “at the slightest indication of the virus re-emerging.” has the latest on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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