Cold weather, premature reopening may escalate Brazil’s Covid-19 spread
The president has been fighting virus-related restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic, which he has called a “small flu”. The country is now a hotspot in Latin America and with more than 1.7 million registered cases since the pandemic began.Updated: Jul 11, 2020 14:58 IST
Two days after Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro tested positive for Covid-19, he said the looming economic crisis is worse than the virus and urged mayors and governors to reopen their states, again. With a premature reopening of the country and the oncoming winter, experts are concerned that the coronavirus will spread in the country unabated.
The president has been fighting virus-related restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic, which he has called a “small flu”. The country is now a hotspot in Latin America and with more than 1.7 million registered cases since the pandemic began, Brazil is also the second-worst affected country in the world.
“There is a false dichotomy between the economy and health,” Dr Leticia Kawano Dourado, a respiratory physician at Hospital do Coracao, Sao Paulo, tells HT. “Many cities have now reopened without fulfilling the WHO criteria for it.”
WHO Americas director Carissa Etienne had warned in June, as Brazilian cities, including the capital, Brasilia, reopened that coronavirus cases Latin America had yet to peak, recommending that Brazil and other countries in the region continue strengthening social distancing and reopening of the economy be done slowly and carefully.
The capital is now seeing an explosion of cases. It now has more infections per capita than any other major city in Brazil, with 2,133 confirmed cases per 100,000 people. That is more than two times higher than metropolitan Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, according to health ministry statistics.
“They’re reopening everything without a clear plan, saying that getting sick is inevitable,” according to Brasilia resident Ana Lustosa da Costa. With her two of her two nephews testing positive, she is worried about her elderly parents who are in the at-risk group.
“Despite the epidemic spreading through the country, the economy has been reopened. Social distancing measures are declining and people are moving around carrying the virus. No state has seen an infection rate lower than 1,” says Dr Paulo A Lotufo, professor of medicine at the University of Sao Paulo.
According to a team of researchers at the university, Brazil has sixteen times more cases than the official numbers indicate. Meanwhile, Researchers at the Federal University of Minas Gerais have suggested it has eight times more cases, Washington Post reported. Nonetheless there is a general consensus that the official figures do not reflect the real cost of the epidemic in the country. “Testing is lacking big time, especially among the less privileged,” says Dr. Dourado.
Add to this, the onset of winter in South America has PAHO worried that serious cases of Covid-19 will rise further. Winter “fuels respiratory infections—like seasonal influenza and pneumonia—that can rapidly spread in colder climates,” Etienne has said.
“Winter is a cause for concern because people spend more time in closed spaces. Plus, the cold weather also brings other viruses,” Dr. Elnara Marcia Negri, a pulmonologist at Hospital Sírio-Libanês in São Paulo, tells HT. A potential spike in seasonal flu could overwhelm hospitals already straining under the coronavirus pandemic.
Health ministry officials said on Wednesday that there are confirmed virus cases in 96.4% of Brazil’s municipalities and the country is still far from reducing the pandemic’s spread. “Brazil is paying the price for the government’s inadequate response to the crisis,” Dr Negri adds.