Photograph: Luis Perez/AP
New data suggests that Ecuador’s coronavirus toll may be much higher than previously indicated, after figures revealed a massive jump in deaths in the province at the centre of the country’s devastating outbreak.
Since the beginning of March six weeks ago, 10,939 people have died in Guayas province, which includes Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, according to figures released late on Thursday.
The region would usually see about 3,000 deaths in a six-week period, with the new figures suggesting that the local death rate has almost quadrupled.
Related: ‘They’re leaving us to die’: Ecuadorians’ plead for help as virus blazes deadly trail
In Ecuador as a whole, coronavirus has been confirmed as the cause of only 421 deaths, and is suspected in a further 675, but interior minister María Paula Romo said the true number was probably much higher.
“The number of deaths is totally out of the ordinary,” she told the Guardian.
Ecuador has been one of worst-affected countries in Latin America, overwhelming medical and mortuary services in Guayaquil, where grieving families have been forced to live alongside corpses of loved ones or abandon them in the street.
“We’ve wanted to be open about the statistics for deaths to show a more complete panorama,” Romo said, adding that the full statistics would explain “why the funeral services and cemeteries simply could not cope in recent days in Guayaquil and Guayas”.
The crisis in Ecuador’s commercial capital has become a warning to Latin America, where many countries have poor health services and high inequality.
Last week, authorities in Guayaquil started handing out thousands of cardboard coffins and created a helpline for families who need corpses to be removed from their homes.
Nearly 70% of Ecuador’s coronavirus cases have been concentrated in Guayas province, which had 5,777 of the national total of 8,450 cases on Friday.
Authorities said nearly 30,000 coronavirus tests had been administered in the country. There are plans to increase capacity to 1,400 tests a day.
However, some regional authorities say the death toll will continue to rise. Andrés Guschmer, a Guayaquil councillor who has been leading the fight against the virus in the city, has predicted the number of people infected will exceed 35,000.