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Scottish priest's sadness at coronavirus situation in Ecuador

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

Gerard Gough

MISSIO Scotland’s previous Diocesan Director for Galloway, Fr Martin Chambers, expressed his shock and sadness at the situation currently being faced by his former parishioners dealing with the coronavirus situation in Ecuador.

Accused of leaving the bodies on the streets to their own fate without proper burial rituals, the government and local officials have faced a barrage of criticisms from relatives of patients who passed away due to the virus.

Images have recently emerged from Guayaquil—the archdiocese where Fr Chambers lived for many years serving the people there—of people abandoning the bodies of their relatives in the streets because the local authorities, overwhelmed by the pandemic, have not been able to collect them. Videos posted on social media have also shown coffins on sidewalks in the tropical heat and vultures circling overhead.

Ecuador said police have removed almost 800 bodies in recent weeks from homes in Guayaquil—the epicentre of the country’s coronavirus outbreak—after the disease overwhelmed emergency services, hospitals and funeral parlours. The military and police began removing bodies from homes three weeks after the mortuary system in Guayaquil collapsed, causing delays in forensic services and funeral homes under a 15-hour long daily curfew.

“It’s shocking,” Fr Chambers said. “It’s disgraceful. I’ve been in touch with people I know from Guayaquil where my area and other shanties are inundated with problems.

“Firstly how can you keep social distancing when the next bamboo house with ten more people is less than two metres away? Then without any recognisable health system they cannot cope with the treatment needed to curb the virus. And finally no one wants to go into shanties to remove those who have died for fear of further contamination. As I said it’s a disgrace.”

The South American country has recorded more than 7500 cases of the coronavirus since the first diagnosis was confirmed on February 29 and the coastal province of Guayas accounts for more than 70 per cent of those infected in the country, with 4000 cases in the capital Guayaquil, according to the national government.

The government of Lenín Moreno claims it is trying to deal with the outbreak while struggling to keep the economy afloat. However, Guayaquil’s mayor Cynthia Viteri, who stood against Mr Moreno in the last presidential election, blames the national government.

“What’s happening to the public healthcare system in this country?” she asked in a video posted from her home, where she is self-isolating having tested positive for Covid-19. “They’re not taking the dead out of the houses, they’re leaving them on the pavements. Families are wandering the city knocking on doors hoping that a public hospital will attend to them.”

President Moreno recently announced an investigation into reported allegations of mismanagement of the bodies of deceased coronavirus patients.

"I have arranged for Jorge Wated, (leader of Ecaudor’s joint task force) to file a complaint to the Attorney General’s Office to investigate the mismanagement of the deceased in hospital morgues,” President Moreno wrote via Twitter. “We will not allow anyone to be buried without his or her identification. They are brothers who deserve a goodbye with dignity!"

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