One year of COVID-19 in Brazil: from a little flu to a foreseen tragedy

The fight against the pandemic was dominated by political controversies and a lack of commitment to the lives of the population

February 28, 2021 by Brasil de Fato
Mobilizations have been held across Brazil demanding the impeachment of Jair Bolsonaro over his poor response to the pandemic and to demand a vaccine for all immediately. Photo: Luiz Rocha / Mídia NINJA

Friday, February 26th, Brazil marked one year since the first registered infection by the coronavirus in its territory. In this period, the country became one of the three nations with the worst pandemic related numbers, with more than 10 million cases and 250 thousand dead.

The first confirmed case was in São Paulo, on February 26th of last year: A 61-year-old man, infected in Italy, developed symptoms after returning to Brazil.

About 10 days later, with 13 registered cases, the Ministry of Health announced measures to reinforce hospital care. A month after the first infection, the country already had almost three thousand people with the disease and the speed of its spread got out of control.

The pandemic’s trajectory in the nation has been characterized by political controversies, the absence of a national plan to combat the illness and the dismissal of preventive measures. This led the country to have the second highest number of deaths on the planet.

When the coronavirus arrived in Brazil, little was known about it. Since then, a lot has been discovered, but what hasn’t changed are the ways to slow the spread of COVID-19. Social isolation and mass testing are the main pillars of this formula.

Nationally, none of these measures have been put in place. Brazil currently sits in 117th place among countries that carry out the most tests. There was never any effective contact tracing, and fewer and fewer people are practicing social distancing.

This scenario was created by the narratives spouted by Jair Bolsonaro himself. In March, the first time the president went on TV to criticize the quarantine, Brazil had more than 60% of the population staying at home. After that, the indexes dropped.

At the time, Bolsonaro said that governors and mayors who encouraged social isolation should “abandon this scorched earth concept”. Days before, he had stated that if he were to become infected with COVID, he would not have any major problems because of his “track record as an athelete.”

Less than a month later, on April 12th, the president lied when he said that the coronavirus was retreating in Brazil. “It seems that the issue of the virus is beginning to go away,” he said on the same day that Brazil registered more than 22 thousand new infections.

All the while, when provoked by journalists to comment on the number of deaths, exceeding 1200 at the time, Bolsonaro replied, “So what? What do you want me to do?,” uttering the phrase “I am not an undertaker,” refusing to comment.

Since then, while the speed in which the number of deaths rose created a macabre scenario, the president continued to minimize the effects of the pandemic, encouraging the normal movement of people on the streets and casting doubt on pandemic figures.

To make matters worse, he insists on defending the use of drugs without scientific verification as a form of treatment against COVID-19. However, the disease has no preventive treatment and none of the substances cited by the president recurrently work against the coronavirus.

Responsibility

As the government made explicit that it would not neglect omissions in its fight against COVID-19, the perception that Jair Bolsonaro’s administration must be held accountable for the deaths, and the healthcare chaos that has been created in some parts of Brazil has increased.

There is a request in the Senate for the installment of a Parliamentary Inquiry Committee (CPI) to assess the government’s handling of the pandemic response. The Federal Court of Accounts is also requesting details about pandemic response measures for the upcoming months.

A survey by the Center for Research and Studies on Health Law (Cepedisa), from the Faculty of Public Health (FSP) of the University of São Paulo (USP), in partnership with the Conectas Human Rights NGO, concluded that the government knowingly acted to undermine the fight against the coronavirus.

The periodic newsletter, Rights in the Pandemic Bulletin, analyzed more than 3,000 decisions made by the Jair Bolsonaro administration regarding the pandemic. They include laws, provisional measures, decrees and other mechanisms that, despite their quantity, did not meet the needs brought on by the crisis.

In addition to this, Brazilian jurists filed a criminal representation with the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) against President Jair Bolsonaro, for crimes against public health, infringement of preventive health measures, irregular use of public funds or resources, malfeasance, and endangering people’s lives or health.

Vaccines

On Thursday February 25, Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, said that his office hopes to vaccinate 170 million Brazilians by the end of this year.

The figure excludes people who are under the age of 18, pregnant women, people with severe comorbidities or weakened immune systems. The minister expects to reach half of this vaccination target by June and says that, to date, more than 13 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed.

In order to combat the high number of cases in the country, in addition to vaccines, the ministry cites the immediate strengthening of basic healthcare units, and the restructuring of the capacity in providing hospital beds to those in need as additional strategies.

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