Cases of the new coronavirus are overwhelming hospitals, mortuaries and cemeteries across Brazil as the largest country in Latin America approaches to become one of the world’s pandemic hotspots.
Officials in Rio de Janeiro and at least four other major cities have warned that their hospital systems are on the verge of collapse, or already too overwhelmed to accommodate more patients.
Health experts predict that the number of infections in the country of 211 million people will be much higher than what has been reported due to insufficient and delayed screening.
Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro has shown no sign of wavering in his insistence that COVID-19 is a relatively minor disease and that extensive social distancing is not necessary to stop it. He said that only high-risk Brazilians should be isolated.
President Jair Bolsonaro, pictured at a press conference, continues to emphasize that Covid-19 is a minor illness despite its rapid spread across the country
In Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon, officials said a cemetery was forced to dig mass graves due to the death toll. Workers buried 100 corpses a day, triple the average of pre-virus burials.
Ytalo Rodrigues, a 20-year-old driver for a funeral provider in Manaus, said he had recovered one body after another for more than 36 hours without interruption. There have been so many deaths, his employer had to add a second hearse, said Rodrigues.
So far, the Ministry of Health has confirmed nearly 53,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 3,600 deaths. According to official figures, the country had its worst day on Thursday, with around 3,700 new cases and more than 400 deaths, and Friday was almost as bleak.
Experts have warned that derisory tests mean the actual number of infections is much higher. And since test processing can take a long time, the current numbers actually reflect deaths that occurred a week or two ago, said Domingos Alves, adjunct professor of social medicine at the University of Sao Paulo, who is involved in the project. .
“We are looking at a photo from the past,” Alves said in an interview last week. “So the number of cases in Brazil is probably even higher than we expect. “
Home protests in Brazil against President Bolsonaro, people leaning out of window beating drums, pots and pans at press conferences
Scientists at the University of Sao Paulo, the University of Brasilia and other institutions say the actual number of people infected with the virus this week is likely to be 587,000 to 1.1 million people.
The health ministry said in a report earlier this month that it has the capacity to test 6,700 people a day – far from the 40,000 it will need when the virus reaches its peak.
“We should be doing a lot more testing than we are doing, but the lab is running at full capacity,” said Keny Colares, an infectious disease specialist at Sao Jose Hospital in northeast Ceara State. , who advised state officials on the pandemic. reply.
Meanwhile, healthcare workers can barely manage their cases.
In the state of Rio, all but one of the seven public hospitals equipped to treat COVID-19 are full and cannot accept new patients until others have recovered or died, the service said. of the secretariat for health. The only vacant establishment is located two hours’ drive from the center of the capital.
At the mouth of the Amazon, the intensive care beds in the city of Belém are all occupied, according to online media G1. As the number of cases increases in the state capital of Para, his secretary of health said this week that at least 200 medical personnel have been infected and that he is actively seeking to hire more doctors, reported G1.
On Saturday, the city of Rio plans to open its first field hospital, with 200 beds, half of which will be used for intensive care. Another hospital next to the historic Maracana football stadium will offer 400 beds from next month.
The city of Rio plans to open its first field hospital, with 200 beds, half of which will be reserved for intensive care
Navy soldiers disinfect toilets during disinfection operation against the new COVID-19 coronavirus at Tom Jobim Galeao International Airport in Rio de Janeiro
In the capital of Ceara, Fortaleza, state officials said on Friday that the intensive care units for COVID-19 patients were 92% full, after reaching capacity a week ago. Experts and health officials are particularly concerned about the spread of the virus in the poorest neighborhoods, or favelas, where people depend on public health care.
Edenir Bessa, a 65-year-old retiree from Rio’s working class favela, Mangueira, visited a doctor on April 20; she was turned away from two full emergency care units before being admitted to a third located 40 kilometers (25 miles) away.
A few hours later, she was transferred by ambulance almost all the way back to Ronaldo Gazzola hospital, according to her son, Rodrigo Bessa. However, she died overnight, and he had to enter the hospital to identify her body.
“I saw many bodies also suspected of having (having) COVID-19 in the basement of the hospital,” said Bessa, a nurse from a hospital in another state.
The hospital released Edenir’s body with a suspected diagnosis of COVID-19, which means that his death – like so many others – is not on the government’s official count. On Wednesday, a small group of family members gathered for his funeral, wearing face masks.
“People have to believe this is serious, that it kills,” said Bessa.
An aerial view of the Parque Taruma cemetery in Manaus, where a new section of the cemetery houses the bodies of confirmed and suspected coronavirus victims
Bolsonaro continued to refute the dire predictions of health officials about the spread of the virus in the country. Last week, the president sacked a health minister who had backed tough anti-virus measures and replaced him with an advocate for reopening the economy.
Bolsonaro’s position largely echoes that of his counterpart and ally of US President Donald Trump, who stressed the need to get people back to work as unemployment figures reach the levels of the depression era. Unlike Bolsonaro, however, Trump has moderated his skepticism about the virus.
The fight to reopen the business “is a risk I run,” Bolsonaro said during the swearing-in of his new health minister, Nelson Teich. If the pandemic escalates, Bolsonaro said, “It lands on my lap.”
Workers in Brazil bury 100 corpses a day – triple the average of pre-virus burials