Tragic onset of Covid-19 crisis in Ecuador remains an open wound
By Cristina Bazan
Guayaquil, Ecuador, Feb 28 (EFE).- Two years after a large death toll sparked widespread fear in this Pacific port city at the onset of the pandemic, Ecuador is still coming to grips with the horrific ordeal of March and April 2020.
In those two months, the National Institute of Statistics and Census tallied 18,754 excess deaths nationwide, presumably mostly of people who died of Covid-19.
And although it is not possible yet to confirm the real reason for all those deaths, those figures and the horrifying images of corpses in the streets brought global attention to Ecuador’s largest city.
One of those fatalities was the father of Blanca Reyes, Julio Reyes, who died at a public hospital on March 28, just a month after the country’s first confirmed coronavirus case.
“My father’s illness started on March 17. The days went by and he got worse, but they told us not to go to the hospitals because they were saturated,” Reyes said.
After unsuccessfully seeking medical attention at several clinics, Blanca took her father to Los Ceibos hospital on March 25 for treatment for pneumonia.
When they finally admitted him, she was told to go home. “24 hours later, they told me he had died,” Reyes said.
Julio Reyes’s body turned up a month later in one of the refrigerated containers set up as mobile morgues at the hospital.
“I wish they’d returned him to me, so he could’ve died with dignity,” she added.
HEALTH SYSTEM COLLAPSE
Dr. Jairo Gallegos, an intensive care physician at Guayaquil’s Hospital General Guasmo Sur, where the first confirmed Covid-19 patient in Ecuador sought treatment, recalled that there was a lot of uncertainty in the first few weeks.
“We’d prepared in advance, but once the first case arrived the room set aside to receive the patients started to fill up,” he recalled. As the weeks went on, the entire hospital had to devote itself to treating that illness because “the spread was quite rapid.”
Besides the hundreds who died in hospitals, containers like the one where Julio Reyes’ body ended up also stored corpses that the government’s Joint Task Force had collected at people homes and even on the streets of Guayaquil.
Relatives of the deceased filed complaints at that time stating that hospitals were charging them up to $100 for information about the bodies.
In response, the Attorney General’s Office began investigating allegations that bodies had been mismanaged and even gone missing.
No one has been found criminally responsible, but some families still do not know what happened to the bodies of their loved ones.
BODIES IN THE STREETS
The body of Luis Ayala, who died on March 30 at his home, was one of the ones that arrived at Guasmo Sur hospital.
“Since that day, we started calling 911 and they told us there were too many deceased persons and that it would take a while to remove the body,” the man’s daughter, Sharon Ayala, told Efe.