How Coronavirus Ravaged Ecuador: From First Confirmed Case to Thousands Dead | NYT News

Ecuador took early aggressive measures to stop the coronavirus, but ended up becoming an epicenter of the pandemic in Latin America. How? We revisit the first confirmed case and what led to the disease’s spread.

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Transcript

Outside a hospital in
Guayaquil, Ecuador,a family seals the
coffin of their fatherwith plastic wrap.Many people in Guayaquil
blame the governmentfor failing to slow the
spread of coronavirus,and to deal with the thousands
of bodies that have piled upin the aftermath.Guayaquil has suffered
arguably the worstCovid death toll
in Latin America.The thing is, Ecuador
had acted earlierthan its neighbors to
close borders and orderstrict quarantine.So what went wrong?From the start,
the one-two punchof rapid contagion and
the ensuing death tollcaught local and
national officials off guard.On Feb. 27,
doctors in Guayaquildiagnosed the country’s
first Covid-19 patient,Bella Lamilla, a 71-year-old
retired teacher, otherwiseknown as “Patient Zero.”Dr. Esteban Ortiz-Prado
is a medical investigatorhelping to advise the
government on the pandemic.It took 13 days to diagnose
Lamilla with coronavirus.And in that time, she infected
many other people, includingmuch of her family,
pictured here in 2019.In all, three
family members died,including Bella herself.After she arrived
in Ecuador, Lamillastayed in the home of
her niece, Cassandra,in the town of Babahoyo.Bella Lamilla was certainly
not the only case.There were at least six
other flights from Madridto Guayaquil between
the time she arrivedand when she was diagnosed.Other travelers later tested
positive for Covid-19.Those lost weeks led to an
out-of-control epidemic.Two and a half weeks after
Bella Lamilla’s diagnosis,the country was on lockdown.Two weeks after
that, Guayaquilwas in the throes of the
most aggressive outbreakin Latin America.“It is true that at the very
beginning, it was a disaster.We are learning by mistake,by errors that we made.”This is
Dr. Juan Carlos Zevallos.He was installed as
Ecuador’s health ministerin late March, after the
former minister resigned.He admits the
government should havetested and tracked patients.But he also blames
residents for notfollowing stay-at-home orders
after Bella’s diagnosis.“Ecuador, as I said,
was prepared.I mean, did all the measures
in place and very early.Unfortunately, the
people didn’t hear us.And they did not obey
those restrictions.”Like a lot of cities
in Latin America,a large segment of
Guayaquil’s populationlives day to day,
working informal jobs.So to stay home
means not eating.It was a
perfect storm of factorsthat left
Guayaquil’s hospitalsand morgues overwhelmed.Now, the government of
Ecuador has another dilemma:Just how to bury the
thousands of bodiesthat have piled up in the
weeks after Lamilla’s death?Ecuador's official Covid
death toll is several hundred.But forensic police have
been working around the clockto collect and account
for thousands more dead.And construction
is now underwayfor various large
burial sites around the city.Container trucks like
this one transportcorpses to one new site on
the outskirts of Guayaquil,in the neighborhood
of Pascuales.Local residents fearful of
contamination are outraged.Officials in charge
of handling the deadhave promised that
each body will havea separate resting place.We attempted to film drone
footage of the new burial site.But Ecuadorean soldiers
ordered our teamto bring the drone down,
and temporarily confiscatedour footage.A human rights worker
documented the incident.Since the first
coronavirus diagnosis,distrust of the government’s
handling of this crisisappears to have spread as
fast as the contagion itself.

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