Rising death toll and collapsing services, Manaus buries Covid victims in mass graves

The country’s seventh largest city is facing an unprecedented health crisis with a lack of health and funeral services

April 24, 2020 by Brasil de Fato
Excavators dig mass graves at a public cemitery in western Manaus - Michael Dantas/AFP

The coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping the globe has affected Latin America’s biggest country, Brazil, particularly hard. As of Wednesday, April 22nd, there were more than 46.200 confirmed cases resulting in over 2.930 deaths according to the Health Ministry. Though the epicenter of the outbreak lies in the country’s largest city, São Paulo, other less affluent regions are finding it difficult to deal with the epidemic, some nearing a state of total collapse due to the crisis.

This is the case for the city of Manaus, capital of the state of Amazonas in the nation’s north. Sitting on the banks of the Amazon river, the seventh largest municipality in Brazil – with a population of over 2.1 million people – Manaus is also a very impoverished area. Data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) published in 2018, indicates that 47,6% of the town’s residents live below the poverty line, and out of these, 6.3% or 130.000 people, live in extreme poverty earning the equivalent of less than 35 dollars per month.

With a huge spike in coronavirus deaths, the state capital finds itself with 90% of it’s ICU units full, and the meager 6 funeral cars available to the population unable to cope with the influx of corpses. In a video widely circulated on social media over the weekend, dead bodies can be seen lying on hospital floors waiting to be transported, right next to patients being treated for Covid-19. The horrific scenes pale in comparison to those of the mass graves being dug around the city to dump the bodies.

Local authorities recently decided to start using trench burials due to the lack of space in morgues. In a press communique to Brasil de Fato, the mayor’s office insists that they are following protocols to preserve the identities of the dead, as well as family ties. Only a handful of relatives are being allowed to attend the funerals at a time. The practice of using mass graves to bury those who have died from the coronavirus has been implemented in many parts of the world, including in New York city.

According to the Health Oversight Foundation (FVS), on Monday (20th) alone, the city of Manaus registered 156 Covid-19 deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to over 2.160 and the number of deceased to more than 200 people.