Brazil strains at quarantine as virus cases pass 5 million
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Dozens of people gathered on the cobblestone streets of downtown Rio de Janeiro for their traditional Pedra do Sal samba party - the first since the pandemic began - and it seemed like Brazil was going back to normal.
Among those who danced on Monday were Luana Jatobá and two friends who all beat COVID-19. As a nursing technician who cares for coronavirus patients, she knows better than most that intensive care occupancy rates in Rio have increased as the average number of cases in seven days has reached its highest level since June.
But, she said, everyone is desperate for a break from the dark.
"We care about the people who have COVID, but something that is not being discussed is that there is a very serious illness all over the world, which is depression," Jatobá said. “After the delivery, this samba circle is really supposed to save those who felt down and were oppressed. It's not just the virus that kills. "
Brazilians like many around the world are burned out in quarantine. The slightly slower pace of the spread of COVID-19, coupled with less media coverage after it moved beyond Brazil's two largest cities, has helped people get the disease out of their minds. But it's moving on through Latin America's largest country, and mayors - many of whom aren't interested in maintaining restrictions ahead of the November elections - are reopening their cities.
And experts warn of a possible second wave.
In its prime, Brazil recorded more than 45,000 cases and 1,000 deaths per day. These sums took the form of a month-long plateau, unlike most other countries whose virus curves had peaked. Although the numbers in Brazil have dropped to around 27,000 cases and 700 deaths per day - a significant improvement - they are still nothing to sneeze at.
Brazil exceeded 5 million confirmed cases on Wednesday evening and has died at 150,000, the second most common in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“People thought it was unacceptable that 1,000 people died every day two months ago, and now they are fine when 700 people die every day. It just doesn't make sense, ”said Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist who coordinates the Pelotas Federal University's testing program and is by far the most comprehensive in the country. "We can say that the worst part of the first wave is over and now of course we need to keep monitoring to see if the numbers go up again."
Hallal added that a second wave of infections is unlikely this year, given that the Brazilian coat of arms has lasted so long but that tens of millions remain vulnerable. A second wave is "very likely" in 2021, he said.
The University of Miami Observatory for COVID-19 in America states that at the Brazilian state level, the number of anti-infection measures has dropped to the third lowest level in the region, behind Nicaragua, which refused to come up with a meaningful answer. and Uruguay, where virus incidence is among the lowest in the world.
The phenomenon is also visible in Brazil's cities, as mayors of campaigns allow bars, restaurants and cinemas to be reopened and encourage people to get out of quarantine. The Brazilian statistics institute released data last week showing that the proportion of people who are strictly isolated or who only leave home when they need to have fallen from 68% in early July to 57% in mid-September.
"Mayors running for re-election have no interest in imposing any bans or restrictions," said Miguel Lago, executive director of the Brazilian Institute for Health Policy Studies, which advises public health officials. Your incentive now is to roll back pandemic measures, he added.
Allegedly remaining restrictions are often ignored. For example, Rio's beaches have been full for the past few weekends, although sunbathing is still prohibited.
"In the Brazilian tradition, there are laws that apply and others that don't," wrote Alvaro Costa e Silva, a columnist for Brazil's largest newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo, this week. "In order to maintain what is now considered mental health, beach filling and bar collecting in Rio became a tolerated compulsion."
With the reopening of stores and some offices in Sao Paulo, traffic jams in South America's largest city have made a comeback. According to the University of Miami's COVID-19 Observatory, which is based on GPS data from Google, mobility had returned to normal levels across Brazil by mid-September.
In the state of Amazonas, where the pandemic hit the capital Manaus early on and cemeteries were forced to dig mass graves, mobility was 24% above pre-pandemic levels. A new spate of cases prompted local authorities to reintroduce restrictions on trade and gatherings and shut down the riverside beach in late September.
"I wouldn't advise governments to relax any further. There's still room for large spikes when people move around and aren't wearing masks," said Michael Touchton, professor of political science at the University of Miami and co-founder of the observatory. " A second high point is still quite possible in Brazil. "
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the severity of COVID-19 from the start, insisting that closing economies would cause worse trouble for working class families than the disease. He told the United Nations General Assembly last month that the virus and unemployment were issues that needed to be resolved at the same time, pointing to emergency payouts that helped 65 million Brazilians through the downturn.
However, Hallal said his government has not put in place a comprehensive national testing guideline to quickly identify cases and prevent their spread, nor has it shown any evidence that it is intended. On the contrary, the Ministry of Health stopped funding his university's testing program in 133 cities after the third phase, forcing him to apply for private funding for the fourth and upcoming fifth phase.
The results of the final phase, conducted in late August, showed an average infection rate of 1.4% in 33,250 people, compared with 3.8% in June. While the rate in Rio and Sao Paulo was only 0.8%, 23 cities - almost all of northern and northeastern Brazil - had three times or more.
"The population is acting like the pandemic has been controlled, which is not true," said Margareth Dalcolmo, professor of respiratory medicine at the state-funded Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, who is also the lead researcher on one of several vaccine studies in Brazil. “The official discourse versus pressure from companies and mayors to reopen everything leaves people confused about which recommendations to follow. It's a big challenge in Brazil. "
Back at the samba show in Rio, party-goers showed they still remember how to walk fast without spilling their plastic cups of beer. A couple danced cheek to cheek. The drummers who beat their drums wore masks, but few spectators followed their lead.
Even so, one of the organizers of the event, Jeferson dos Santos, celebrated the return of the longed-for rhythm.
"Today we have the first wave of samba, all musicians wear their masks, all play and respect the standards of the World Health Organization," said dos Santos. "We hope everything goes well, with God's will. We are in this positive mood."
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