July 28, 2020 / 4:51 PM / 13 days ago

Ecuador opens mobile centers for COVID-19 testing as hospitals fill up

QUITO (Reuters) - As the coronavirus pandemic takes its toll on Ecuador’s capital of Quito, authorities are deploying new sanitary mobile centers to ramp up testing and ease pressure on the health system which is being challenged again by a rapid rise in cases.

Quito has become Ecuador’s new COVID-19 hotspot, with total cases there recently overtaking those in Guayaquil, the country’s second-largest city, which in March and April suffered one of Latin America’s worst outbreaks.

Quito now has 12,561 cases, with Ecuador’s total case count exceeding 80,000, according to the government’s figures. Some 600 people have died in the capital, out of 5,532 deaths across the Andean nation.

The government says Quito is experiencing a “critical situation” as intensive care units have reached full capacity.

Authorities are now adapting other areas to attend to hundreds of patients in a bid to avoid what happened in Guayaquil, where many victims died at home due to a dearth of hospital beds.

Authorities have set up tents in schools across Quito to conduct rapid tests, and are providing diagnoses at cultural centers and a basketball stadium. Medical brigades despatched by the Health Ministry are also patrolling neighborhoods with high rates of infection to carry out spot tests.

“The first experience in Guayaquil was painful, but it helped us ... to improve our capabilities,” the health minister, Juan Carlos Zevallos, said on state television.

Reporting by Daniel Tapia; Writing by Alexandra Valencia; Editing by Angus Berwick and Bernadette Baum

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