The equipment that Greta Encalada, 52, used for the job is playing in a corner of the yard of her home in Samanes, on the outskirts of Guayaquil – Ecuador’s largest city. The frame includes a bed, towels and devices used for cleansing the skin and other types of cosmetic treatments.
Since March, however, she has not plied her trade. First, because this activity is prohibited due to sanitary measures against the coronavirus. Secondly, because his life was marked by tragedy.
In April 2020, her sister, María Dolores, passed away at the age of 46, when the first wave of the pandemic hit the region of Guayaquil, a city of 2.6 million people which is the financial heart of Ecuador.
In addition to grief and the need to take care of her nephew and mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, Greta has also joined a group that brings together family members of the deceased who were hastily buried. and precariously when hospitals and morgues collapsed.
The bodies of the first victims of Covid-19 were collected from the streets, homes and hospitals by a task force that even involved the armed forces.
“My sister spent two days dead at home, waiting for them to come and collect her body. The town hall service did not take into account the number of people who died during these weeks, ”Greta explains to Folha, referring to the period between February and April of last year.
The body of María Dolores was then taken to a morgue, but the family could not see her. He has just received the information that a month later she was buried – but without the exact location.
“There are several culprits in all of this. Public morgue officials charged U $ 400 [R$ 2.150] for a parent to come in just to see if their parent’s body was inside. Then came the audience where some blamed themselves. In the cemeteries, where entry was prohibited, they charged us bribes to enter and take a look, to try to find out something, to no avail. A lot of people paid, they were cheated, ”she says.
“We are Catholics, what we ask is to know where she is, to receive the body and give it a grave. We ask this to complete the mourning. “
Although some judges have ruled in favor of family members, the city of Guayaquil says it is unable to meet requests at this time, when the country begins to face a further increase in cases. coronavirus.
Greta says she was assisted by a psychologist, a service offered by the municipality to relatives of the dead. “It helps me a lot, because we have horrible images in our heads, in addition to the tension of knowing what happened. It’s hard to start life again after that. “
In Greta’s group there are people who have lived with the bodies of family members at home for several days. “It’s something very painful, especially in families with young children, who are traumatized, aside from the fear of contagion,” he says.
Images of the chaos caused by the arrival of the virus in Guayaquil have traveled the world and appeared in dozens of foreign publications.
Scenes of abandoned or wrapped bodies in front of houses and coffins carried by cranes and strollers have had a huge negative impact on President Lenín Moreno’s administration. The government has been accused of acting too late, both to take action to tackle the pandemic and to deal with the health and funeral collapse in the country’s largest city.
Almost a year after the first case, on February 14, the wounds from the first wave have not yet healed. The first infection was from an Ecuadorian woman who lived in Madrid and had come to Guayaquil to visit her family. The virus was identified when the woman was hospitalized – 13 days later, she died.
To date, the exact number of deaths in Ecuador as a result of Covid-19 is disputed. Human rights organizations and survivors’ associations estimate that there were more than 10,000 in the metropolitan area of Guayaquil alone.
The official numbers don’t even reach a third of that, but at the same time, there is an 185% increase in deaths in the city during this time. Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, a global benchmark in the matter, shows that Ecuador had 253,339 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Friday (5), with 14,968 deaths.
In the first wave, even President Moreno admitted there were inconsistencies in the numbers when asked about the official numbers.
“We know that the number of contagions and the number of deaths in official registers are lower. The reality exceeds the number of tests we have been able to do and the speed of deaths, ”he said, in an interview with a local television.
Despite this, the government has not responded to requests for an official death toll. He also did not commit to identifying all the people who were buried in the open mass graves in the various cemeteries that already exist and in two others built during the pandemic, each with a capacity of 12,000 dead.
Folha visited two of these spaces in Guayaquil. In the Parque de la Paz there is a lawn with small panels, which is located next to the regular graves. At this location, it is estimated that over a thousand people were buried without identification. Nearby is also a shed in which are accumulated the remains of improvised cardboard and wooden coffins.
“The bodies arrived anyway, wrapped up in fleeing armed boxes. We would remove it and bury it here, ”says Edwin, 57, site manager for the cemetery, which is currently undergoing expansion.
In addition to the mass grave, there is a new vertical cemetery area, with drawers with the identified dead. When we look at the dates of the deaths, there is an accumulation in the last days of March and early April. “A truck arrived with a dead man to bury,” he says.
At the time, however, neither the press nor family members could see how many and how the burials were. But that was in the minds of the inhabitants of the district of Pascuales, where the cemetery is located. One of them is Maritza Torres, who lives with her three daughters in a small house opposite the main entrance to the trucks.
“They came in large quantities and for several days. And they used to drop our internet signal every time they came to bring bodies, so that we weren’t filming and sending photos and videos. But what is in my head, I do not forget. It was truck after truck for several weeks. Bodies could be seen on display and blood could be seen from the vehicles.
Frightened, she and the neighbors went to ask the police officers what care was being given, if they would be instructed not to be infected. “The next day, they came to clean the whole street in front of our house. But then it was we who started a collective effort to cleanse regularly, because we are very close to where the bodies were going, ”he says.
Torres says that due to Sunday’s presidential elections (7), several candidates were in the neighborhood, campaigning. “But we know that nobody wants to touch that, to really know what happened and who is buried where. They also say that they are going to help us, give us money, but people are very skeptical. “
She says she got help from the government last year because she lost her job at a cleaning company, but this year she hasn’t earned anything yet. “They are analyzing it, they say, but it will be up to the next government to decide. We can take it. What I don’t know if I can take it back is to see the dead arriving in a heap. .