With open borders and virtually no national lockdown, the figures of the coronavirus epidemic in Brazil are shocking and continue to worsen every day, as with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro refuses to acknowledge the extent of the problem.
The country has registered 7,025 deaths from COVID-19 (275 of them in the last 24 hours) and has exceeded the barrier of 100,000 confirmed cases, now with 101,147 cases, with a much worse situation than what is seen in other countries in South American.
And the real situation may yet be worse.
The real number of cases could be over a million, as Brazil has a severe lack of tests, according to different studies recently published – with the peak of the infection expected in two weeks.
The state of Sao Paulo, the richest and most populous in Brazil, with some 46 million inhabitants, continues to be the hardest hit by the pandemic with 2,627 deaths and 31,772 infected by COVID-19. The state of Rio de Janeiro follows with 1,019 deaths and 11,139 infected.
In a rally on Sunday, Bolsonaro reaffirmed his rejection of a lockdown and questioned governors who imposed measures to limit the movement of people. Each state in Brazil has the right to decide whether to set a lockdown or not. Sao Paulo, for example, has a lockdown in place since mid-March. Overall, however, Brazil is still not experiencing a lockdown against the outbreak.
“The number of jobs that are being lost because of the lockdown is irresponsible and inadmissible. This will cost us a lot in the future,” Bolsonaro said in the rally. “The people are with us and the army in the side of the law, the order, the liberty and the democracy.”
Bolsonaro’s stance is largely in line with his counterpart and ally U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been stressing the need to put people back to work as unemployment figures keep growing — in opposition to the advice from health experts and governors. However, while Trump has been kept in check by the rest of the administration and by Congress, Bolsonaro has been given a freer hand — and the results are frightening.
Since Brazil confirmed its first coronavirus case on 26 February, Bolsonaro has continually downplayed the pandemic, rejecting what he considers to be “hysteria” over its dangers. Asked about a record 474 deaths in a day last week, he told reporters “so what?” and “what do you want me to do?”
Health experts fear the coronavirus outbreak – which is moving into poor regions, having initially affected middle- and upper-class areas – could wreak havoc on Brazil’s most deprived and vulnerable communities. This is especially worrying for indigenous communities living in the Amazon region. Figures including Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, David Hockney and Paul McCartney have sent an open letter to Bolsonaro and warned the pandemic meant indigenous communities in the Amazon faced “an extreme threat to their very survival”.
“Five centuries ago, these ethnic groups were decimated by diseases brought by European colonisers … Now, with this new scourge spreading rapidly across Brazil … [they] may disappear completely since they have no means of combating Covid-19,” they wrote.
Former Brazilian President Lula da Silva told The Guardian Bolsonaro is leading Brazilians “to the slaughterhouse” with his irresponsible handling of coronavirus. “Brazil is going to suffer a great deal because of Bolsonaro’s recklessness,” he said, claiming bodies would soon start to pile up in Brazil.
Close to Brazil, neighboring Argentina has set up a strict lockdown from early March, which has prevented the virus from spreading further and even delayed the peak of infection – first expected in April and now expected in June.
Citizens are only allowed to go outside to buy groceries or assist family members, with only essential workers such as doctors allowed to break the lockdown. The use of face-covering is advised but not mandatory on a national scale.
So far, this has clearly paid off. The country has only 4,700 confirmed cases, 246 deaths and 1,341 recovered patients, mainly concentrated in Buenos Aires province, the most populated area of the country. The lockdown is likely to be extended until the end of the month.
Research comparing Brazil and Argentina can be even more illustrative. Both countries had only two deaths from coronavirus on March 17, but the situation has evolved much differently. If nothing changes, Brazil would have 28,600 deaths by the of May, while Argentina would have 532.
The wide gap is worrying South American countries, who fear the virus could spread faster across the region due to the large number of cases in Brazil. They are now working in coordination to set up measures such as restricting traffic in routes and further controlling trucks coming from Brazilian cities.