Coronavirus crisis in Brazil is out of control, and set to get worse

Aerial view of an area at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery where new graves have been dug in Manaus, Brazil.

Aerial view of an area at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery where new graves have been dug in Manaus, Brazil. Photo: Getty

Brazil has rapidly overtaken Russia to become the second biggest hot spot for coronavirus infections after the US.

US President Donald Trump responded to the grim milestone by banning foreigners from travelling to the US if they had been in Brazil in the past two weeks.

America’s death toll exceeds 97,000 – quadruple that of Brazil.

Yet case numbers in the South American nation are climbing at a disturbing rate.

Health ministry figures released on Saturday showed a staggering 16,508 new cases in just 24 hours.

As of Monday, Brazil had more than 365,213 confirmed infections and a death toll surpassing 22,746.

Across major cities, cemetery workers and volunteers are digging emergency graves to keep up with demand and healthcare workers are desperately trying to save lives.

For indigenous people in remote areas, the disaster is even worse.

The COVID-19 mortality rate for indigenous peoples is double that of the rest of Brazil’s population, according to advocacy group Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.

In April, a 15-year-old Yanomami boy from a remote village in the Amazon was one of the first indigenous Brazilians to die from the virus.

How did it come to this? And why

It all comes down to politics.

Like Mr Trump, Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has long rejected social distancing measures in favour of reopening the economy.

After dismissing COVID-19 as a “little flu”, Mr Bolsonaro has defied many governors and health practitioners by urging businesses to reopen.

The president attracted further criticism this week for disregarding social distancing rules by encouraging a pro-Bolsonaro rally to go ahead.

Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at a demonstration. Photo: Getty

Surrounded by security guards wearing masks, but not wearing one himself, Mr Bolsonaro was shown in a live-streaming video on his Facebook page greeting protesters who waved Brazilian flags and called him a “legend”.

More rallies are expected in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous city and the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the city’s healthcare system already crumbling under extreme pressure.

The demonstrations follow a decision by Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court to release a video recording of an April 22 ministerial meeting, in which Mr Bolsonaro said he wanted to change security officials, their bosses or even ministers to stop his family and friends getting “screwed”.

The political scandal centres around an accusation by former justice minister Sergio Moro, a popular anti-corruption crusader, that Mr Bolsonaro aimed to interfere in police investigations.

Mr Bolsonaro has also promoted the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, the same one touted by Mr Trump as a possible cure for COVID-19 despite repeated warnings from health experts.

-with AAP

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