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'Don't leave him here': Ecuadorians live with dead relatives amid coronavirus pandemic

"I'm begging authorities to come and please have compassion," says a woman in Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, with more confirmed coronavirus cases than some neighboring countries.
Men carry a sick man into a hospital in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.Enrique Ortiz / AFP via Getty Images

Families in Ecuador's largest city have been struggling to bury the corpses of those who have died amid the coronavirus pandemic as the spread of the disease it causes has led to the collapse of the country's funeral system.

In Guayaquil, relatives of the dead have been forced to keep their loved ones' bodies in their homes for days.

"Don't leave him lying here," a sorrowful widow said in a social media video after authorities told her it would be several days before they would be able to remove her husband's body from their home.

"I'm begging authorities to come and please have compassion," the woman said.

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Another young man posted a video of his brother's body wrapped in a plastic cover placed on the sidewalk in front of his house. He claims authorities told him days would go by before an ambulance would be able to pick up the corpse.

Residents have also seen bodies wrapped in plastic and left on the streets, according to local news and witness accounts posted on social media. Because the city morgue is full, unclaimed bodies continue to pile up in hospitals and clinics overwhelmed by the coronavirus.

While the majority of the dead are believed to be victims of the virus, the numbers are unclear because of the country's lack of widespread testing.

Image: Body removed in Guayaquil
Workers carry a coffin at a cemetery in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Marcos Pin / AFP via Getty Images

Ecuador has 3,163 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Nearly 71 percent are in the province of Guayas, where Guayaquil is located. The port city of about 2.2 million people is dealing with 1,520 confirmed cases of coronavirus. That's more than in seven Latin American countries: Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Venezuela, Bolivia and Paraguay.

At least 120 people have died of COVID-19 in Ecuador, according to the country's emergency management agency.

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Many of the city's overwhelmed funeral homes are refusing to take the bodies out of fear of the contagion, because the causes of death remain unknown in many cases.

Jorge Wated, president of BanEcuador, the country's public bank, is serving as the country's coronavirus joint task force coordinator. He publicly issued an apology to those "who experienced a delay in disposing of their loved ones' bodies."

Authorities said they're making efforts to improve the collection of corpses.

Mayor Cynthia Viteri, who tested positive for the virus, said Tuesday that the city had received the first of several refrigerated containers to "deposit the bodies of those who died inside a hospital or in their homes."

The announcement came a week after authorities said they removed 100 corpses from homes in Guayaquil.

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said the city is building a coronavirus cemetery as the number of cases and deaths continues to increase. Moreno also said his administration is creating a task force "to provide a dignified burial to deceased nationals."

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