COVID-19: Dispatch from Brazil


Marcos Kisil


While I am writing, Brazil’s Health Ministry reports that there are 621 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country spread across 17 states. Unsurprisingly, the states with Brazil´s two biggest cities are home to the most infections, São Paulo has 286 confirmed cases, followed by Rio de Janeiro, with 65. Seven deaths involving elderly people were registered.

We did not reach the peak of the epidemic. What we have in place are preventive and palliative decisions in the health field, and especially, economic decisions in preparation for a possible recession. We are closing our borders with all countries of South America, and limiting the access of international flights to Brazil.

The economic reality is very similar to the rest of the world: companies closing their quarantined doors, with employees, when possible, working over the internet; employees start to be dismissed, especially the least qualified; stock exchange with its melting papers; closed trade and services, with the exception of supermarkets and pharmacies.

Self-isolation strategies, individual preventive actions, especially personal hygiene occupies the media to exhaustion.

However, we have serious problems in conducting actions that depend on government leadership at the federal level. President Bolsonaro, a declared fan of President Trump, dismissed the epidemic at the beginning, ignoring the warnings of his own Minister of Health. On an untimely visit to the United States, without a clear agenda, he was with President Trump at a dinner in Miami. From his entourage, 22 participants came back infected by the coronavirus, including senior members of his government, as well as from the congress and business. Like the other members of the delegation, back to Brazil, he was alerted by the need to remain in quarantine. Bypassing this request, last Sunday, in a populist action, he went to fraternize with supporting groups, disregarding his own health, and those who approached him. A bad example for a moment of prevention.

In this sense, we see great unpreparedness of our top political leadership, which is not realising the worsening of the crisis that is approaching. We have 35 million Brazilians who do not have potable water, 100 million who do not have access to sewage services, 13 million in extreme poverty, 11 million living in 6.329 favelas (in Rio de Janeiro the favela population represents 22% of the population).  To this moment, the epidemic did not affect this population. However, we know that when we reach this population, we will have high numbers of infected people and deaths. They are people who no longer have access to basic health services, they do not have the education to understand government guidelines, they do not have fixed jobs, and they cannot escape the promiscuous coexistence due to the lack of spaces and minimum housing conditions.

This concern is growing in the media, and in leaders of non-governmental organisations, especially human rights. The philanthropic world has not yet taken a leading role in this process. We see voluntary efforts by people and groups, acting in a non-unified or organized way.

In short, Brazilian society is going through a stressing process. We know that in some point we need to move from preventive or palliative measures to hospital care where it will be critical the access to intensive care units that we do not have in number and quality to attend patients in need. Moreover, in an unfavourable political climate due to the erratic behaviour of the executive branch where a President is facing a growing opposition from different groups of the society.

Marcos Kisil is president and founder of IDIS and also serves on the Editorial Board of Alliance magazine.

Tagged in: Covid-19

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