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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Ecuadorian site creates virtual memorial so families can say goodbye to loved ones who died during coronavirus pandemic



Of the South American countries, Ecuador is the country with the highest number of those infected and the highest number of deaths from the novel coronavirus per capita.

In "Ecuador, today, if a person dies in a hospital, their relatives cannot go to say goodbye or see them," Isabela Ponce, director and founder of the Ecuadorian site GK, told the Knight Center. "Whoever died must be buried... without anyone being present there.”

Landing page mockup of Voces para la Memoria from GK. (Courtesy.)

The city where GK started, Guayaquil, made international headlines with reports of the dead being left in the streets due to overwhelmed hospitals, morgues, cemeteries and funeral homes.

And so, GK is developing the collaborative virtual memorial  “Voces para la Memoria” (Voices for Memory), so that Ecuadorians can say goodbye to their loved ones who died during the health emergency caused by COVID-19, according to Ponce.

The platform will be launched the third week of April, with at least 20 tributes. "The idea is that it will be fed weekly," Ponce said.

"Every day, when we hear that the death toll from COVID-19 is increasing in Ecuador and in the world, we know that we are facing a situation that exceeds all our limits," Gabriela Valarezo, GK art director, told the Knight Center.

Until April 7 in the afternoon, the figures published by the National Service of Risk and Emergency Management of Ecuador recorded 3,995 cases and 220 deaths. Guayaquil, the country’s second principal city after Quito, registers 1,846 cases according to official figures, more than half of cases across the country.

“However, these figures do not reflect the human side of the deaths: the feeling of the loss of a loved one and the limits that the family has to say goodbye these days. In this space we want to pay tribute to the victims and allow their families to have a place where they can remember them," Valarezo said.

Family members are asked to fill out an online form to be part of the memorial and must include an audio message for their loved one. “Then you will have audio and photography with a little text. The idea is that we present them as ‘photoaudios’ to see the image of the person while listening to the message of their family member," Ponce said.

In Ecuador, the first case of COVID-19 was announced on Feb. 29 by the General Secretariat for Communication. About two weeks later, the government declared a health emergency on March 12, EFE published. 

Given the rising curve of contagions in the country, especially in Guayaquil, the government imposed a curfew starting on March 26, from 2 P.M. to 5 A.M., to restrict the circulation of people and avoid a greater wave of cases, according to the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio. President Lenín Moreno also announced fines and penalties for those who fail to comply with the measure.

However, Ponce said that the government's response to the pandemic is not up to the circumstances, since the emergency line established by the Ministry of Public Health to attend to cases suspected by COVID-19 "collapsed very soon."

According to the Argentine newspaper Página 12, in Guayaquil, many of the funeral homes have stopped working for fear of contagion and the dead wait days at home to be picked up by the public system. "The lack of resources in the popular neighborhoods leads to the wakes being held in the houses, nothing like this has happened before," said Billy Navarrete, executive secretary of the permanent committee for the defense of human rights in Guayaquil, according to Página 12.

On its Twitter account, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said it observed "with deep dismay the difficulties reported in Guayaquil to move, cremate and bury the bodies of people who have died during the COVID-19 pandemic."

"During the entire crisis, the deceased have become numbers and it is painful for family members not to be able to have unhurried farewells, showing the love they had for their loved ones," Ponce said. "In this case, we want Voces para la Memoria to fill that void, even a little bit.”



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