Rio favelas count the cost as the murderous spread of Covid-19 hits the city’s poor | News from the world


In many ways, Washington Castro was a typical resident of Rocinha, the huge red brick favela which dominates the Atlantic coast of Rio de Janeiro.

Industrious, God-fearing and a descendant of migrants from northeast Brazil, destitute and destitute, he supported two young children in two separate jobs and wore a suit and tie when he attended his local church.

“He was a wonderful boy. He worked from Monday to Monday, “recalls his distressed father, José Osmar Alves da Silva, reflecting on the death of his son. “Now there is this hole inside me and I cannot understand anything. “

Castro died Saturday 27 of suspicion of Covid-19 at the age of 27 – at least one of six Rocinha residents who have lost their lives due to the coronavirus when what many fear could be a devastating march to across some of the most vulnerable communities in Latin America.

“He was a cute … Every time we met, he always wore the same smile,” said Cecília Vasconcelos, a childhood friend who grew up with him in this sprawling community of some 100,000 people south of Rio .

The coronavirus seems to have been introduced in Brazil by members of the country’s middle and upper classes on their return from their February vacation in Europe or the United States.

In Rio and São Paulo, many of the early infections were concentrated in the wealthiest neighborhoods, such as Copacabana and Gávea, where Castro had worked as an assistant in an accounting firm and a pool server in a club for wealthy elites of Brazil.

Washington Castro, 27, from Rocinha.

Washington Castro, 27, from Rocinha. Photography: none

One of the most famous clusters was the Rio’s Country Club, an ultra-exclusive enclave of privilege and power just five kilometers from Rocinha where at least 60 of the 850 members were infected.

But two months after the first notification of the Covid-19 case in Brazil, the disease is progressing in the private and densely populated favelas of the two cities, with potentially significant political and humanitarian consequences.

“You can see it is moving to the urban outskirts – gradually, but it is getting there,” said Paulo Lotufo, an epidemiologist. at the University of São Paulo, warning that its proliferation in such places could impose a terrible human toll on residents without access to private health care or sometimes even basic sanitation.

“I tend to believe that in some places we are going to see something across Ecuador”, where the hospitals were submerged and the bodies thrown in the streets, warned Lotufo.

Pedro Doria, a Rio-based writer, said he thought spreading the coronavirus through the favelas could also take a heavy political toll on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who called for easing measures confinement in an apparent attempt to make themselves poor. .

“Right now, what hurts people [in the favelas] is the economy. Right now, Bolsonaro makes a lot of sense to them, ”said Doria. But he thought attitudes would change “the moment the people we love start dying around us.”

“Depending on the evolution of the pandemic – especially in the urban outskirts and the favelas – Bolsonaro will lose much of its support,” predicted Doria, speculating that she might even end her presidency by impeachment.

“People will not forget that he said it was OK to go out on the street. “

So far, at least 18 people have reportedly died in Covid-19 in Rio’s favelas, which house about 20% of the city’s 6.7 million people.

At least 140 cases have been detected, 54 in Rocinha, which is one of the communities closest to the affluent area south of the city.

Bolsonaro will not help with coronavirus, so Brazil’s favelas help themselves – video

Other deaths have taken place in some of the most deprived areas of Rio, including Acari, Manguinhos and the City of God favela made famous by Fernando Meirelles’ film.

Wallace Pereira, a community leader from Rocinha, said he feared a lack of testing, which means the actual numbers were actually much higher.

“We are facing a public disaster here,” he said, warning that the political skirmish between the governor of Rio, who ordered residents to stay at home, and Bolsonaro, who downplayed the pandemic, left the inhabitants of the favela confused and exposed.

“People are getting sick and have nowhere to go,” said Pereira. “The situation is getting worse because a lot of people say,” This virus won’t catch me “- which is a fantasy. “

In Port of Morro da Providência, Rio’s oldest favela, 64-year-old Maurício Rodrigues de Oliveira was found dead last Tuesday by neighbors who suspected Covid-19 of being the cause.

“The day before, he complained about a temperature and passed out on the street,” said Ladelson Soares, a 41-year-old neighbor.

“He was a wonderful person – a waiter at some of Rio’s most famous restaurants,” said Soares, who said it took two days for the authorities to recover his body.

Death has caused panic in many neighbors – already grappling with the economic impact of the foreclosure.

“Today, I raised money to buy a hand sanitizer because I have two children at home. But I know it means we won’t have the money to eat, “said Claudene Carvalho, a local unemployed woman who found her body and implored community leaders to help her.

A woman walks with her daughter, wearing a protective mask in a slum in Rocinha during the coronavirus epidemic this week.

A woman walks with her daughter wearing a protective mask in a slum in Rocinha during the coronavirus outbreak this week. Photography: Ricardo Moraes / Reuters

For Castro’s family, the tragedy began on the morning of April 6 when he left to work on bus 539.

Shortly after arriving at the office, Castro began to feel sick and went to a nearby public health center where he was admitted to complaining of headaches and difficulty breathing.

By that time, Covid-19 had already killed more than 500 Brazilians. On Friday, the death toll reached 3,670. But – apparently relaxed about his situation – Castro sent his father a WhatsApp photo in which he appeared wearing an oxygen mask. No one imagined what was going to happen.

Two days later, Castro was rushed to Covid-19 Patient Hospital in west Rio, where he was intubated upon arrival. “We would go there – but we couldn’t see it,” recalls her 56-year-old father. “We only talked to the doctors. “

After 10 days of intensive care – and, for relatives, 10 days of prayer – Castro was pronounced dead around 4:30 a.m. on April 18, the death certificate mentioning severe acute respiratory syndrome as the official cause of death. He left two children, Maria Clara and Pierre, aged three and seven.

Another family is also in mourning near Castro’s former home in Rocinha.


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