Latin America lives in fear as Brazil’s coronavirus death toll soars
Several countries, including Mexico, where 8,000 people have died, along with Chile and Peru, are struggling to contain significant outbreaks.
None compares to the situation in Brazil, where the right-wing President Bolsonaro, has refused to endorse stringent lockdown measures. The death toll is almost 25,000 and is doubling there every two weeks. A University of Washington study has estimated that the country, which has a population of 210 million, is on track to reach a death toll of 125,000 by early August.
In neighbouring Argentina, which imposed an early lockdown, concerns about Brazil are intensifying. “Over there in Brazil it’s chaos,” said Luis Agote, a paediatrician based in Buenos Aires. “We are not going to open up to Brazil. Argentina’s international flights and borders will not reopen until September.
Last weekend Argentina abruptly reversed plans to relax its own lockdown, instead extending restrictions in the capital and tightening rules on domestic travel. The country has recorded about 12,000 cases and 445 people have died.
The strict measures employed by President Fernández in early March have been praised as being highly effective in controlling the outbreak. At the time Mr Fernández, a leftwinger who took office last year, said that his priority was always going to be health, not the economy. “You can recover from a drop in the GDP,” he said.
Argentina officially entered into default for the ninth time in its history last week after failing to make a $500 million interest payment on foreign debt. Despite that, the country has won praise even from its former rivals.
“Brazil is likely exporting the virus,” Arthur Virgilio, the conservative mayor of Manaus, a city in Brazil that is the gateway to the Amazon region and a flashpoint for the disease, told The Times. He said that Argentina was “very rigid” and “very effective” when it came to controlling the spread of the coronavirus.
Mr Virgilio has been criticised by President Bolsonaro after images of mass graves in Manaus emerged. In a leaked recording of a cabinet meeting the president can be heard describing the mayor as a “piece of shit”. Burials in Manaus are running at five times their normal rate
Landlocked Paraguay, whose frontier with Brazil stretches 800 miles, much of which is unpatrolled, says that it has detected many cases of the virus among its citizens who are returning home after the factories where they worked in Brazil were closed as a result of the outbreak.
“We are the closest country to Sao Paulo, the epicentre,” Guillermo Sequera, the director of health surveillance, told The Times.
He said that the people being tested were those who crossed the borders at official crossing points, where they are quarantined.
However, many thousands are believed to enter Paraguay illegally, with some bound to be bringing the virus with them undetected.
Paraguay, one of the poorest countries in the region, has to date recorded only 11 coronavirus deaths. It was the first of Brazil’s neighbours to impose strict measures to prevent the spread of the disease in early March, closing entry to all Chinese citizens and quarantining anyone who had travelled to Italy.
This month President Abdo Benítez said that the incidence of the virus in neighbouring Brazil was “a great threat to our country”.
Venezuela, which borders Brazil to the south, is also seen as vulnerable to the pandemic given the state of its public health system. One third of hospitals are without reliable running water and power cuts are common. The country is in its seventh year of deep recession under the far-left regime of President Maduro.
According to official figures, Venezuela, which has a population of 30 million, has had 11 deaths from the virus. Those numbers have been contested in a report this week by Human Rights Watch.
“We believe the data, the statistics . . . are absolutely absurd and are not credible,” said José Miguel Vivanco, the organisation’s director for the Americas.
Mr Vivanco described the Maduro regime as a “repressive dictatorship” that prohibited doctors from reporting the facts on the ground and instead “hides data”.
State television in Venezuela has compared its own situation favourably with that of Brazil. “The health systems have collapsed” in Brazil, Mr Maduro said in a broadcast last week. “We need to be very careful.”