Corona pandemic in Brazil: fear along the Amazon

Corona pandemic in Brazil: fear along the Amazon

After the big cities, the coronavirus spreads in the Brazilian hinterland. Medical care is usually poor there.

When the first corona cases in Brazil were reported in March, everything went very quickly in Almeirim. A crisis team was formed, access routes to the small Amazon city closed, residents informed about the virus. “We knew that the pandemic would have catastrophic effects here,” says a journalist.

The 56-year-old actually works for the environmental secretariat. But now it is helping to fight the pandemic. After first spreading to the big cities, Covid-19 has now reached remote and rural regions.

Although those responsible in Almeirim acted early, the first cases were also reported in the small town in the northern state of Pará.

Almeirim is located on the Amazon River, has around 30,000 inhabitants and lives from fishing and the timber trade. Like most remote regions, the pandemic is hitting the city hard.

A primary medical care unit has been set up, but there are no intensive care beds. Four ventilators were flown into the city. But according to de Sousa, these are not yet in use. Serious cases need to be treated in the southern provincial capital, Santarém. The journey there takes 20 hours by ferry, six hours by speedboat. Some patients with severe symptoms were also flown out by plane. But according to de Sousa, air transport is already completely overloaded. In addition, treatment is not guaranteed in Santarém either. The hospital admits patients from 16 districts, the waiting list is long.

Many regions inland are like Almeirim. According to the state research institute Fiocruz, 90 percent of the 5,570 districts do not have intensive care beds, 59 percent have no ventilators.

While the number of infections in cities has recently declined slightly, it has risen sharply in remote regions. So also in the southeastern state of Espírito Santo. Farmer Marcieli Ramos lives on a farm near the small town of Pancas. “In the beginning, nobody took the infection seriously,” says the 32-year-old journalist. In the conservative region, many believed President Jair Bolsonaro’s downplaying. It was only when an increasing number of cases were recorded that the city imposed the first quarantine measures.

There is no hospital or intensive care beds in Pancas. Medical care is poor. In order not to go hungry, the movement of small farmers (MPA), in which Ramos is also organized, distributes food donations to the poorest. In the meantime, many Brazilians have got used to the pandemic, the high number of infections and deaths hardly lead to an outcry – and loosening has been carried out across the country.

The country is currently at a peak of the crisis: on Wednesday, Brazil recorded 67,860 new corona cases in 24 hours – the highest level since the pandemic began. According to the Johns Hopkins University, 2.944 million people are infected, the second highest absolute value in the world after the United States, and more than 86,499 have already died from the virus.

On Saturday Rio de Janeiro already canceled the New Year’s fireworks on Copacabana, the city of São Paulo postponed the carnival, which normally takes place in February, indefinitely.

And President Jair Bolsonaro? He continues to downplay corona and, despite medical warnings, advertises the malaria drug chloroquine as a miracle cure for Covid-19. He himself announced his own illness on July 7th and said he had no complaints about taking chloroquine. On Saturday, he tweeted that another corona test had failed, after which he ended his domestic isolation.

Many blame not only the neoliberal austerity policy for the precarious health situation in the country, but also directly the president. After Bolsonaro’s verbal attacks, Cuba declared in November 2018 to end the “More Doctors” program. The island nation had sent thousands of doctors to remote regions of Brazil since 2013. The Brazilian government had grandly declared that the places would be replaced by local doctors. But according to media reports, this was not successful everywhere.

De Sousa from the Amazon town of Almeirim is also dissatisfied with the president’s crisis management. “Bolsonaro reacted irresponsibly. If he had acted faster, we would have fewer deaths now.”

The governor of the State of Pará, a politician from the center-right party MDB, took the situation more seriously. “And at least he was wearing a mask.” At the end of May, de Sousa’s father fell ill. In the hospital he got the diagnosis: corona. His condition worsened, he was put on the waiting list for an intensive care bed – but before he got a place, he died.

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