New cases of coronaviruses are hospitals, mortuaries and extraordinary graves throughout Brazil as the largest country in Latin America draws closer to being one of the hottest places in the pandemic world.
Medical officials in Rio de Janeiro and at least four other major cities have warned that their hospital system is on the verge of collapse, or already too overwhelmed to take more patients.
Health experts estimate the number of infections in the country which reached 211 million people will be far higher than reported because of insufficient delayed testing.
Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro showed no signs of wavering from his insistence that COVID-19 was a relatively minor disease and that broad social measures were not needed to stop it.
He said only Brazilians at high risk should be isolated.
In Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon, officials said a grave had been forced to dig mass graves because there were so many deaths.
Workers have buried 100 bodies a day – triple the average funeral before the virus.
Ytalo Rodrigues, a 20-year-old driver for burial service providers in Manaus, said he had taken one body after another for more than 36 hours, without a break.
There were so many deaths, the employer had to add a second hearse, Rodrigues said.
So far, the ministry of health has confirmed nearly 53,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 3,600 deaths.
According to official calculations, the country experienced its worst day on Thursday, with around 3,700 new cases and more than 400 deaths, and Friday was almost as bleak.
Experts warn that trivial testing means the actual number of infections is far greater.
And because it takes so long to process, the current figures actually reflect deaths that occurred a week or two ago, said Domingos Alves, assistant professor of social medicine at the University of Sao Paulo, who was involved in the project. .
“We are looking at photos of the past,” Alves said in an interview last week.
“Therefore, the number of cases in Brazil may be even greater than we predicted.”
Scientists from the University of Sao Paulo, the University of Brasilia and other institutions say the actual number of people infected with the virus this week may be as many as 587,000 to 1.1 million.
The health ministry said in a report earlier this month that it had the capacity to test 6,700 people per day – far from the 40,000 needed when the virus peaked.
“We have to do more tests than we do, but the laboratory here works very well,” said Keny Colares, an infectious disease specialist at Sao Jose Hospital in northeastern Ceara state who has advised state officials about the pandemic. response.
Meanwhile, health workers can barely handle the cases they have.
In the state of Rio, all but one of the seven public hospitals equipped to treat COVID-19 are full and can only accept new patients once others recover or die, according to the health secretariat press office.
The only facility with vacancies is located two hours away from the center of the capital.
In the mouth of the Amazon, the city of Belem’s intensive care beds are all occupied, according to the online media outlet G1.
As the number of cases increased in the state capital of Para, his health secretary said this week that at least 200 medical staff had been infected, and were actively seeking to hire more doctors, G1 reported.
On Saturday, the city of Rio plans to open its first field hospital, with 200 beds, half provided for intensive care.
Another hospital set up next to the historic Maracana football stadium will offer 400 beds starting next month.
In Ceara’s capital, Fortaleza, state officials said Friday that the intensive care unit for COVID-19 patients was 92% full, after reaching capacity a week ago.
Health experts and officials are very worried about the virus spreading to the poorest environments, or favelas, where people depend on public health care.
Edenir Bessa, a 65-year-old retiree from the Rio Mangueira favela working class, sought medical attention on April 20; he turned away from two full emergency treatment units before getting entry permits to a third located 40 kilometers away.
A few hours later, he was transferred by ambulance most of the way, to Ronaldo Gazzola’s hospital, according to his son, Rodrigo Bessa.
However, he died last night, and he had to be hospitalized to identify his body.
“I saw many bodies that were also suspected of (having) COVID-19 in the hospital basement,” said Bessa, a nurse at a hospital in another state.
The hospital released Edenir’s body with a suspected diagnosis of COVID-19, which means that his death – like the others – was not included in official government figures.
A small group of family members gathered for his funeral on Wednesday, wearing face masks.
“People need to believe that this is serious, that it kills,” Bessa said.
Bolsonaro continues to reject health officials’ predictions about the spread of the virus in the country.
Last week, the president sacked a health minister who had supported tough antiviral measures and replaced him with an advisor to reopen the economy.
Bolsonaro’s attitude largely echoes the attitude of his colleague and ally of US President Donald Trump, who has stressed the need to return people to work when unemployment reaches the Depression era.
However, unlike Bolsonaro, Trump has softened his skepticism about the virus.
The struggle to reopen the business “is a risk I run,” Bolsonaro said at the oath of the newly appointed health minister, Nelson Teich.
If the pandemic rises, Bolsonaro said, “it landed on my lap.”
Originally published as Fear of the next viral hot spot