I spoke to three friends in Brazil to see how things were going there, and their points of view were surprisingly divergent.
My first friend’s view (“This lockdown is overkill and will do more damage than the virus”) can be read here. Below are the other two views.
Carlos: People aren’t taking the risk seriously. Saving lives should take priority over economic considerations.
Carlos’s view – curiously, given that he is also friends with her – was the polar opposite of Jaciela’s. He worries that people aren’t taking the situation seriously enough. He said although people have been advised to stay at home, there are no controls in place, and even with the shops closed, the streets are still full of people.
He is not unsympathetic to people’s wish to keep working as usual:
“I respect those who are worried about their financial situation and are afraid of becoming unemployed, losing customers or having to close their businesses. This fear exists for all of us and it is real.”
He runs his own business selling car parts and has seen a dramatic fall in orders, and of course he is worried about the financial implications. However, he would rather deal with economic problems than with a life-threatening virus. After all, he says, “you can recover from financial difficulties”.
He is concerned for his 73-year-old mother, who relies on him for supplies, and he has started working from home and going out as little as possible to minimise the risk of exposing her to the virus.
He thinks that the authorities are downplaying the gravity of coronavirus because if they admitted how serious it is, it would then become their responsibility to provide everyone with masks, which they aren’t in a position to do, given that there aren’t even enough masks for medical staff.
He is insistent that everyone should be wearing a mask when they go out and is very worried about the lack of availability. He mentioned the reports of shipments of masks bound for France and Germany – including batches destined for the German police – being diverted after Americans – not the American government, but private citizens – offered to pay three times as much, in cash, in “an act of modern piracy”.
In Brazil, he says, the management of the crisis is a crisis in its own right, because the authorities aren’t speaking with one voice: “The perfect time to acknowledge that we are truly a banana republic!”
He thinks Bolsonaro is highly irresponsible, telling old people to stay at home but young people to keep going out to work – “then the young people come home in the evening bringing bread, milk and virus” – and he is relieved that most state governors and mayors are taking it more seriously than Bolsonaro.
Jussara: Worried that we won’t be able to avoid losing family members
I lived with Jussara and her family in Brazil, and she became my honorary “Brazilian mother”. She is very anxious. Here’s what she told me:
“Based on what I’ve heard, covid is less lethal than H1N1 [the virus that caused the 2009-10 ‘swine flu’ pandemic]. The problem is that it is much more contagious, and people who don’t have symptoms can pass it on to those more vulnerable than themselves.
The idea of lockdown is to slow the spread of the virus, because if a lot of people get ill at the same time, the hospitals won’t be able to cope. Even before the pandemic we already had people lying on stretchers in hospital corridors because there weren’t enough beds. Imagine how it will be now. And there aren’t enough ventilators either. [This is in direct contradiction with what Jaciela told me about Brazil’s superbly well equipped hospitals.]
I think that most people will get it sooner or later. And even if it doesn’t kill you, it can put you in hospital for 15-20 days.
Just looking at members of our family, I don’t think my parents or my mother-in-law would survive it, so they have to look after themselves carefully and wait for a vaccine. Then there’s my my sister, who has a heart problem, my brother, who is diabetic, and my brother-in-law, who has had a kidney transplant – I don’t know if they would make it. I am worried that we won’t get through this without losing family members.”