A month ago, Blanca Reyes received the call dreaded by so many.
The hospital gave her the tragic news that her father had died. He had been diagnosed with coronavirus but it still came as a huge shock.
“‘What?’ I said. ‘That can’t be right, he was stable. This was the last update you gave me’. And then the person continued: ‘No, if you are Blanca Reyes and your father… he died. Please come to the hospital.'”
Compounding her shock and grief in the weeks that have passed since, the hospital in Guayaquil, Ecuador, still can’t find his body.
Despite multiple phone calls and trips to the hospital, Blanca’s been given no answers. A death certificate has been issued but no body to bury.
Blanca speaks with quiet anger and grief about the way she has been treated.
She suspects the government is trying to cover up the extent of its failure to handle the pandemic.
“I have some theories. One is that they didn’t tell the families because they didn’t want to hand over the bodies in order to hide, at the beginning, the number of COVID-19 deaths.”
Authorities admitted to Sky News they have 120 bodies that have not been identified but could not account for bodies simply going missing in the system.
Blanca’s story is symptomatic of a complete collapse in the city where she lives in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The nightmare we have all been dreading happened here.
The government failed the people in their hour of greatest need and the health system was overwhelmed.
It failed so badly that bodies were left to rot on the streets or in people’s homes. When Cesar Galvez’s father died, local authorities were too busy to take his body. They had to keep it in their home for three days.
“We were helpless… no one to turn to, everything turned hard and even more for the relatives. Imagine having there a dead body and not being able of doing anything. It is tough,” said Cesar Galvez.
The city of Guayaquil has been called Latin America’s Wuhan, after the Chinese city where the virus started.
It has been among the continent’s worst hit.
It’s thought as many as 7,000 have died in this one city alone, although official figures, which count only those who tested positive for the virus before dying, are far lower.
They are used to disposing of 50 bodies a day in normal times. As COVID-19 ravaged the city, that number rose to 500.
Poverty, disorganisation, and the failure of officials to anticipate the crisis led to dystopian scenes of bodies being collected from the streets.
Blanca waits for answers and a body to bury. She is in no doubt that the government could and should have done much more.
“The authorities did not act on time, I believe my father got sick because there was no control at all. The airports were not shut down on time.
“They did not even control the temperature of the passengers. This was known since January, first in China then Italy in February. They had two months to get ready and they did not do it.”
Her lament will be familiar to so many, far beyond Ecuador.
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