Coronavirus in Brazil: Leaving Normal Behind

States and local governments take the lead in measures to slow the spread of Covid-19.

If live still felt relatively normal in Brazil until Monday, things took a sharp turn early this week.

On Tuesday, March 17th, the mayor or São Paulo declared a state of emergency. São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil, with 12 million people, and over 20 million in the large metropolitan area, as well as the heart of the country’s economy. The first case of coronavirus in Brazil was registered in São Paulo, where 5 people have already died.

Brazil currently has a total of 647confirmed cases spread through 21 out of its 27 states. Nearly half of those are in the state of São Paulo, which registered 240 cases as of March 17th.

While at first federal government focused on fiscal and economic measures to alleviate the impact of the virus in the economy, state and local officials took measures to slow the spread of the disease.

Between March 17th and 18th, several state governments began mandating that commercial activities be shut down, except for grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and food delivery services. States are also prohibiting inter-city bus travel.

On March 18th, President Bolsonaro announced several measures at federal level, such as declaring a state of public calamity, which allows the government budget flexibility to funnel resources to self-employed workers, as well as those who already rely on the State voucher known as Bolsa Família.

President Bolsonaro has been heavily criticized for his mishandling of the pandemic, which included violating his own quarantine to shake hands with supporters. The situation is shaping as a major political crises for the government, and Brazilian life can no longer be considered “normal.”

Factories are sending their employees on collective vacation, malls and gyms are closed. Anyone who can afford to work from home is doing so. Some people are wearing masks to venture outside, and there’s visible concern about keeping a safe distance in public spaces. There’s no lockdown in place. We’re all encouraged, but not mandated, to stay home — and those of us who can are doing so.

How coronavirus affects each country depends not only on the policies adopted to contain the disease, but on differences in demographics, culture, lifestyle, and economic prosperity.

In Brazil, a large portion of the population is poor. The number of people who barely have access to running water and soap to wash their hands is not insignificant. These tend to be the same people who work jobs that can’t possibly be done from home — if they’re employed at all. Many of them are still going to work, even now.

The country isn’t completely paralyzed yet, but it’s not unlikely we’ll eventually be on mandatory lockdown. A few challenges Brazil has to face in beating Covid-19 include, but are not limited to: a deficient, already overrun, public health system with not enough ICU beds; a large poor population with precarious access to proper hygiene; and a large population of casual/informal workers who rely on daily/weekly pay to subsist, and who will experience severe financial constraints if they’re kept from their livelihood for even a week, let alone a month (Wuhan was on lockdown for 2 months).

Coronavirus is devastating Europe, and it has made its way to South America, where even the most optimistic forecast still paints a grim picture. Here, we’ve officially left any sense of normalcy behind, and no one dares estimate when — or if — we’ll ever get it back.

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Life explorer.

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