How Ecuador’s Port City Became a Coronavirus Epicenter

Men shrouded in PPE wrap plastic around a coffin in the rear of a pickup truck OUTSIDE A HOSPITAL IN GUAYAQUIL, ECUADOR, A FAMILY SEALS THE COFFIN OF THEIR FATHER WITH PLASTIC WRAP. FAMILY OF DECEASED — 60 dollars to buy equipment to enter [the hospital] and wrap the coffin. Here there’s no help for anyone. CAMERA — What findings, COVID positive? FAMILY OF DECEASED — Lung failure, which anyone in the world can have. Why? So they can keep the COVID deaths low. Government body collectors sequence MANY PEOPLE IN GUAYAQUIL BLAME THE GOVERNMENT FOR FAILING TO SLOW THE SPREAD OF CORONAVIRUS, AND TO DEAL WITH THE THOUSANDS OF BODIES THAT HAVE PILED UP IN THE AFTERMATH. GUAYAQUIL HAS SUFFERED ARGUABLY THE WORST COVID DEATH TOLL IN LATIN AMERICA. THE THING IS: ECUADOR HAD ACTED EARLIER THAN ITS NEIGHBORS TO CLOSE BORDERS AND ORDER STRICT QUARANTINE. SO WHAT WENT WRONG? TITLE — ECUADOR: ANATOMY OF AN EPIDEMIC UGC CLIP 1 — That Ecuador became infected when the first infected person arrived here! UGC CLIP 2 — It’s been more than three days that we’ve been calling … Dispatch map graphic overlay; drone shots over newly made tombs FROM THE START, THE ONE-TWO PUNCH OF RAPID CONTAGION AND THE ENSUING DEATH TOLL CAUGHT LOCAL AND NATIONAL OFFICIALS OFF GUARD. Archival of Health Minister Catalina Ardamuño announcing first case; photo of Bella Lamilla at Guayaquil airport Feb. 14, 2020 ON FEBRUARY 27TH, DOCTORS IN GUAYAQUIL DIAGNOSED THE COUNTRY’S FIRST COVID-19 PATIENT. BELLA LAMILLA , A 71-YEAR-OLD RETIRED TEACHER OTHERWISE KNOWN AS “PATIENT ZERO.” DR. ESTEBAN ORTIZ-PRADO — She was living in Spain, and she came through the Guayaquil Airport, and she drove through her hometown. DR. ESTEBAN ORTIZ-PRADO IS AN MEDICAL INVESTIGATOR HELPING TO ADVISE THE GOVERNMENT ON THE PANDEMIC. ORTIZ-PRADO (via Zoom) — She visited all of her relatives. She went back to Guayaquil and found medical services in Guayaquil in a private clinic. She got really bad. She got in the ICU unit. Five days later, she got the diagnosis. So two doctors from that first clinic also got tested positive. Because nobody knew about it. IT TOOK 13 DAYS TO DIAGNOSE LAMILLA WITH CORONAVIRUS. AND IN THAT TIME, SHE INFECTED MANY OTHER PEOPLE, INCLUDING MUCH OF HER FAMILY, PICTURED HERE IN 2019. IN ALL, THREE FAMILY MEMBERS DIED, INCLUDING BELLA HERSELF. ORTIZ-PRADO (via Zoom) – It was the third most spreader in the world at that time. She like totally infected 17 people, confirmed. But we know the culture in Ecuador, before getting the diagnosis could have spread the virus more. We lost track right there. Animated map of 6 Iberia flights Madrid to Guayaquil between Feb. 14 and Feb. 29 AFTER SHE ARRIVED, LAMILLA STAYED IN THE HOME OF HER NIECE CASSANDRA IN THE TOWN OF BABA-OYO. CASSANDRA LAMILLA — She never knew what disease she had. And still many on social media point to my aunt as if she were to blame for bringing the coronavirus to Ecuador. Animated map showing flights from Madrid to Guayaquil BELLA LAMILLA WAS CERTAINLY NOT THE ONLY CASE. THERE WERE AT LEAST SIX OTHER FLIGHTS FROM MADRID TO GUAYAQUIL BETWEEN THE TIME SHE ARRIVED AND SHE WAS DIAGNOSED. OTHER TRAVELERS LATER TESTED POSITIVE FOR COVID-19. LAMILLA — She told us that she had developed a fever on the plane and that many people were coughing on the plane. And when she arrived at the airport there were no controls or protocols. ORTIZ-PRADO — And that was the first problem we didn’t track very well. The entries of people from the airport total in the first two weeks. Most of the patients came from the airport. 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, GUAYAQUIL WAS IN THE THROES OF THE MOST AGGRESSIVE OUTBREAK IN LATIN AMERICA. Back to body collectors scene JUAN CARLOS CEVALLOS, HEALTH MINISTER — We cannot blame Patient 0 just as we can’t blame Patient 4000. // We cannot deny the mistake. It is true, at the very beginning it was a disaster. THIS IS DOCTOR JUAN CARLOS CEVALLOS. HE WAS INSTALLED AS ECUADOR’S HEALTH MINISTER IN LATE MARCH, AFTER THE FORMER MINISTER RESIGNED. HE ADMITS THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD HAVE TESTED AND TRACKED PATIENTS. BUT ALSO BLAMED RESIDENTS FOR NOT FOLLOWING STAY-AT-HOME ORDERS AFTER BELLA’S DIAGNOSIS. CEVALLOS — Ecuador was prepared. It did all the measures in place, and very early. // Unfortunately, the people didn’t hear us. They did not obey those restrictions. LIKE A LOT OF CITIES IN LATIN AMERICA, A LARGE SEGMENT OF GUAYAQUIL’S POPULATION LIVES DAY-TO-DAY WORKING INFORMAL JOBS. SO TO STAY HOME MEANS NOT EATING. IT WAS A PERFECT STORM OF FACTORS AND IT HAS LEFT GUAYAQUIL OVERWHELMED. SOT – Now he’s dead. SOT – This morning people were dying at the hospital door. Everyone inside is dying too. Drone footage of grave sites NOW THE GOVERNMENT OF ECUADOR HAS ANOTHER DILEMMA: JUST HOW TO BURY THE THOUSANDS MORE BODIES THAT HAVE PILED UP IN THE WEEKS AFTER LAMILLA’S DEATH. Police enter home, disinfect and hoist a cadaver from a bed into a body bag; drone over cemeteries under construction FORENSIC POLICE HAVE BEEN WORKING AROUND THE CLOCK TO COLLECT AND ACCOUNT FOR THE DEAD. AND CONSTRUCTION IS NOW UNDERWAY FOR VARIOUS LARGE BURIAL SITES AROUND THE CITY. Pascuales resident points to white container truck arriving CONTAINER TRUCKS LIKE THIS ONE TRANSPORT CORPSES TO ONE NEW SITE ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF GUAYAQUIL. LOCAL RESIDENTS FEARFUL OF CONTAMINATION ARE OUTRAGED. Human rights researcher interviewing Pascuales resident PASCUALES RESIDENT – They don’t want other countries, other people, other cities to know the reality of what’s happening here in Guayaquil, here in Pascuales. Drone footage approaching a new grave site OFFICIALS IN CHARGE OF HANDLING THE DEAD HAVE PROMISED THAT EACH BODY WILL HAVE A SEPARATE RESTING PLACE. Soldiers and police on a cell talking with a camera person asking, “what are you hiding?” Soldier puts hand to camera lens WE ATTEMPTED TO FILM DRONE FOOTAGE OF THE NEW BURIAL SITE, BUT ECUADORIAN SOLDIERS ORDERED OUR TEAM TO BRING THE DRONE DOWN AND TEMPORARILY CONFISCATED OUR FOOTAGE. HUMAN RIGHTS WORKER (CDH) – The neighbors have denounced the entering of trucks, at least three a day, with containers full of cadavers supposedly, to this cemetery where they have opened a common grave. Drone shot zooming out of cemetery to reveal construction of more grave sites behind SINCE THE FIRST DIAGNOSIS, DISTRUST OF THE GOVERNMENT’S HANDLING OF THIS CRISIS APPEARS TO HAVE SPREAD AS FAST AS THE CONTAGION ITSELF. ———— END IT —————

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