Views from Brazil (1): “This lockdown is overkill”

The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has been in the news a lot recently for dismissing covid-19 as “a little flu” and claiming that “Brazilians never catch anything”.

I spoke to three friends in Brazil to see how things were going there, and their points of view were surprisingly divergent.

Below is one friend’s view. The other two can be read here.

Jaciela: This lockdown is overkill and will do more damage than the virus
My friend Jaciela gave a lecture – quite a frustrated one – saying that the international media’s depiction of Bolsonaro is entirely unfair.

Most state governors have gone over Bolsonaro’s head and put their states into lockdown and Brazil has ground to a halt, which she believes is completely unnecessary. People are stuck at home, not working, not studying and not socialising. Children haven’t been to school for weeks. Many people have lost their incomes. And although the government is providing financial aid to businesses so they can keep paying their staff and to people who work in the informal economy, not everyone benefits, and in any case, she says, that’s not what people want – “they are begging to be able to go back to work!” 

And older people, who are used to going out and spending time with their friends, are now isolated at home and finding it unbearable:
“A friend of mine’s elderly father recently had to have his foot partially amputated,” she said. “He can’t walk properly, although he can still hobble around, and he gets out and sees people. And he says that being stuck at home, isolated, is much worse than losing part of his foot.”

She believes  this social isolation will have serious consequences:
“Never mind the virus – you’re going to have a whole wave of people now dying of sadness and depression.” 

And given that the virus doesn’t survive so well in the heat, she reckons now is the perfect time to give it free reign to burn itself out, before winter sets in. [I’m not sure how much sense this makes. Even if the virus does prefer cooler weather – and there are suggestions that it may but no conclusive proof yet – I don’t know if that means that it becomes less contagious in warm weather or simply less lethal. It’s also not known yet whether you become immune to it once you have recovered, and if so, how long the immunity lasts, so it may not burn out at all but keep returning.] 

“In any case,” she said, “I think many of us have already had it. I had what I think were symptoms a few weeks ago, and many of my family members and friends also think they have had it. But tests aren’t available so we don’t know for sure.”

[I was talking to another friend the day before and mentioned that a couple of people had told me recently that they had had – or suspected they might have had – the virus.
“Ah, yes,” she replied. “It’s funny how all of a sudden everyone reckons they’ve had it – always two weeks ago. Before it even arrived.”

This guy agrees:

]

And why shut people at home in places like her town, said Jaciela, where there hasn’t been a single case of coronavirus? [Although this did contradict what she said about how she and many people she knew had had symptoms.] And even if there were cases, she reckons it’s unlikely to spread as fast as in Europe, because Brazilian cities are less densely populated.

Besides which, she says, there are many places where you can’t implement effective lockdowns anyway, like favelas, where you have eight people sharing a shack 5m x 5m – “smaller than your studio flat in Paris!” [In my studio flat in Paris, the bed folded up against the wall, and when it was opened out, you couldn’t even walk around the room.] Space in the favelas is so short that you get one person sleeping for a few hours then getting up and letting the next person use the bed. It is inhumane, if it is even possible, to keep people cooped up in conditions like that, especially when it’s 40°C outside.

Also, if the virus does spread, she reckons Brazil’s health system is well prepared to deal with it. She says that Brazil has more hospital beds and more critical-care units per head than most European countries (as far as she knows, only Germany has more). 

In any case, she says, Brazil has more serious health issues than coronavirus. People die in vast numbers of malaria, yellow fever, chikungunya, dengue, tuberculosis – “You have no idea how many people die every day of tuberculosis” – and coronavirus is really the least of their worries. 

She ended with a lament that Brazil has so much economic potential – it has plenty of space for agriculture; it produces vast quantities of excellent fruit and vegetables; it has plentiful mining opportunities and a thriving tech industry – and it is an incredible waste to impose an economy-crushing lockdown like this out of fear of a virus that is no worse than many of the diseases that Brazil is already dealing with, in places where the virus quite possibly hasn’t even reached, with a healthcare system that is well equipped to deal with it. 

Read two different points of view in the next post.

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