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Ecuador's COVID-19 Outbreak Is One Of South America's Biggest


Bodies are piling up on the streets in Ecuador. The country has a relatively small population, but one of the biggest outbreaks of COVID-19 in South America. There are more than 3,000 confirmed cases. And as John Otis reports, the epicenter is the port city of Guayaquil.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: About half of Ecuador's coronavirus cases have been registered in Guayaquil, overwhelming the city's hospitals. In addition, a nationwide curfew has hindered the work of ambulance drivers and undertakers. So the bodies of people who have succumbed to COVID-19 and other illnesses often lie for days, wrapped in bed sheets and watched over by relatives. That's what happened to Victor Morande, a 38-year-old Guayaquil resident who died in his home of respiratory failure. In a local TV interview, the victim's cousin, Keyla Reyes, was distraught.


KEYLA REYES: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: "He's been dead for four days," she wailed. "We've been calling the police, but no one comes." Because the stench of the decomposing body filled her house, Reyes had moved it to the sidewalk.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: This Guayaquil man tells a similar story about his dead brother, whose body lay in the driveway of his home.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: In a video posted on social media, he says he was told there were no ambulances available in all of Guayaquil. Even Guayaquil's mayor, Cynthia Viteri, seemed shocked.


CYNTHIA VITERI: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: She asks in a Facebook video, "what's happening to the public health system in this country?" One problem, says Guayaquil political analyst Martha Roldos, is that government epidemiologists have scaled back their work amid budget cuts. In addition, the city sends many exchange students to Italy and Spain, two of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus.

MARTHA ROLDOS: A lot of people was returning to Ecuador to spend vacations with their families. So there was a lot of people coming from Italy and Spain.

OTIS: In a speech on Thursday, President Lenin Moreno warned that as many as 3,500 people could die of coronavirus in and around Guayaquil.


PRESIDENT LENIN MORENO: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: But he said he had sent a special task force to Guayaquil to collect the bodies, and pledged to build a new cemetery to hold them.

For NPR News, I'm John Otis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Otis