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A Ecuadorian man bids farewell to a family member who died at home in Guayaquil A Ecuadorian man bids farewell to a family member who died at home in Guayaquil 

Ecuador buckling under Covid-19 pressure on healthcare system

Ecuador's Diocese of Latacunga sets up a food bank where residents can express solidarity with those in need, as the Latin American nation gets to grips with the Covid-19 emergency.

By James Blears & Devin Watkins

The Diocese of Latacunga is inviting Ecuadorians to donate excess food supplies so that the poor can have something to eat, since many sources of income have dried up due to social-distancing measures.

Bishop Geovanni Mauricio Paz launched the food bank appeal as a sign of the Church's care for those in need. "The number of poor people are growing every day due to the global economic crisis. They always hope that we will share something with them," he said.

Bishop Paz added that the charitable initiative is a good way to build "a merciful Church which lives in love and closeness to those in need."

Staggering death toll

Ecuador has been hard-hit by the Covid-19 coronavirus, with authorities working to assess the staggering death toll in the largest city, Guayaquil.

Authorities say the Guayas province, where the Pacific port city of Guayaquil is situated, is at the epicenter of the coronavirus in Ecuador, estimating that more than 6,500 people have perished in the first half of April.

This is likely a significant underestimation, not because of any deliberate evasion, but rather an inability to keep up with the sheer pace of the grim reaper, which is wreaking a swift, unrelenting and deadly havoc.

Disturbing and heartbreaking pictures have emerged of bodies abandoned on the streets, sometimes for days, wrapped in thick plastic in the cloying heat. Officials say more than 60 per day are now being collected and placed in large refrigeration units.

The dignity of funerals will have to wait, as respect for the dead is currently secondary to the vital survival of the living. Some are left without wooden coffins, as they're being replaced by cardboard boxes, which once held succulent fruit.

Elusive causes

Theories about just why the city and region has been hit so devastatingly hard abound.

Some say it's because of direct trade links to Spain and Italy. Others say it's because of the urban population density,  which doesn't distinguish a fig between the vast gulf dividing the affluent rich and the struggling poor. 

A sixty dollars per month stipend to stay at home for workers isn't going to buy sufficient beans, rice, or the precious time needed to sustain the average household. Many have already been affected by the crash of global oil prices for beleaguered Ecuador, soaking up and slumping due to another agonizing body blow.

Vice President Otto Sonnenholzen has already apologized for the slow and initially sluggish response of the government to the pandemic, as well as for the lack of proper distancing advice. This allowed Covid-19 to microscopically, yet insidiously, carve an opportunistic swathe through a close-knit and utterly-unprepared population.

The tragedy of Guayaquil and its terrible anguish serves as a virulent and timely warning to the rest of Latin America, which can still avoid its fate by keeping death at arms length, or even further away.

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18 April 2020, 10:59