Ecuador said police have removed nearly 800 bodies in recent weeks from homes in Guayaquil, the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus epidemic, after the disease overwhelmed the emergency services, hospitals and funeral homes.

Mortuary workers in the Pacific port city were unable to cope with a backlog, with residents posting videos on social media showing bodies left on the streets.

“The number of people we have collected from working groups has exceeded 700 people,” said Jorge Wated, who heads a government-created team of police and military to help with the chaos unleashed by COVID-19.

He said later on Twitter on Sunday that the joint task force, which has been operational for three weeks, had recovered 771 bodies from homes and 631 from hospitals with morgues full.

Wated did not specify the cause of death for the victims, 600 of whom were buried by authorities.

Ecuador has recorded 7,500 cases of coronavirus since the first diagnosis was confirmed on February 29.

The coastal province of Guayas has more than 70% of those infected in the country, with 4,000 cases in the capital Guayaquil, according to the national government.

The army and police began removing bodies from homes three weeks after the Guayaquil mortuary system collapsed, causing delays in forensic services and funeral homes, under a 15-hour daily curfew.

Residents of Guayaquil posted videos of bodies left on the streets on social media, as well as messages asking for help in burying family members.

The Ecuadorian government has undertaken to bury the bodies, given the inability of relatives to do so for various reasons, including financial.

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In early April, Wated said that “medical experts, unfortunately … estimate that COVID-19-related deaths in these months will reach between 2,500 and 3,500, just in the province of Guayas.”


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