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‘You can’t escape the smell’: Ecuador city struggles to bury coronavirus dead

People take a coffin to a cemeterie on the back of a pickup truck in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
People take a coffin to a cemeterie on the back of a pickup truck in Guayaquil, Ecuador. © Reuters / France 24

Bodies kept in homes, buried in fields or stored in refrigerated containers: With morgues and funeral homes overloaded, the city of Guayaquil in Ecuador and the epicentre of the country’s coronavirus outbreak is struggling to collect and properly bury the victims.

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Images of giant refrigerated containers outside public hospitals in the city emerged this week, with the government confirming that three such containers were being used to store bodies until graves can be prepared.

With health services, cemeteries and funeral homes overstretched and a strict curfew restricting movement, collecting and burying the dead has become a critical problem in Guayaquil.

Videos posted on social media in recent days purporting to show families burying their loved ones in playing fields or keeping bodies in their homes for days as they wait for them to be collected by the authorities.

Queues of vehicles with coffins in the boots or strapped to roofs have also been seen forming outside cemeteries.

 “You can't escape the smell coming from the cadaver,” said Glenda Larrea Vera, a neighbour of a family storing a dead body in their home.

“There are homes nearby with older people in them. My 80-year-old mother is here and she has respiratory problems. And we're worried just as much as they are because just imagine, they're going to have to take the body out to their patio or the street."

To alleviate the problem, police and soldiers were sent to the city last week to collect bodies.

In just three days, 150 bodies were removed from streets and homes, officials said.

Ecuador has recorded around 3,600 coronavirus cases and 180 deaths, with more than 80 of those deaths in Guayaquil.

But President Lenin Moreno has said the real toll is likely higher as authorities had been unable to keep up with the rapid spread of the virus.

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