SEATTLE, Washington — The spread of COVID-19 in the United States is still high, but there may be a new frontrunner for the epicenter of the virus in the upcoming months. As of May 2020, Brazil, the largest country in South America, has a growing number of 300,000 cases, the third-highest in the world. Likewise, the neighbouring countries of Brazil are not faring well with Peru having over 100,000 cases and seven other countries, including Mexico and Chile, having well above 10,000.
These numbers are high, but it is the rate at which the cases are spreading that is a cause for concern. While many countries that had worse initial outbreaks are seeing a steady decrease in deaths, South American countries have yet to peak. In just under two months, Brazil has gone from an average of zero deaths per day to almost 1,000 while Mexico has nearly reached 500.
Brazil and COVID-19
Both Brazil and Mexico have alternated holding the top-ranked spot for most COVID-19 deaths in South America, and that is no coincidence. While each country has given out some guidelines for its citizens amid the pandemic, neither has implemented any official national restrictions. Shockingly, the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has been protesting lockdown measures. On April 19, Bolsonaro joined other protestors in the capital city of Brasilia to oppose the recommendations his own administration had recommended for social distancing.
These protests occurred over a month ago, when Brazil only had 39,000 cases. Yet, Bolsonaro continues to resist a nation-wide lockdown even as the total number of infections has continued to climb over 300,000.
President Bolsonaro and Quarantine Protests
Currently, Bolsonaro continues to participate in protests and plans to reopen Brazilian borders. Unfortunately, there are few signs that enforcement of quarantine or other public health measures will occur anytime soon. Bolsonaro has gone on record to call protesters of quarantine “patriots” despite the increase of infections and deaths in the country. Furthermore, protesters have even urged for a return to an authoritarian rule amid the pandemic, which would make Bolsonaro increasingly powerful in terms of how he could address national lockdowns.
Bolsonaro has his own reasons for protesting the quarantine. Citing the economy, the president said, “The masses can’t afford to stay home because the refrigerator is empty.” This belief is not entirely unfounded. With the state of poverty in Brazil, waiting in quarantine without another paycheque could be disastrous. In Brazil, 16 million people live below the poverty line and the World Bank projects that 3.6 million more will fall under the line as well.
Yet, while a quarantine can negatively affect the economy, without effective public health measures Brazil’s poor may lose much more than just money. Without healthcare and mass testing, impoverished Brazilians are more likely to not only go untreated, but potentially even die from preexisting conditions and worsen the overall spread of COVID-19 in South America.
How to Help
Just because a portion of the Brazilian government is resistant to the global quarantine measures, it does not mean that all efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 in South America are in vain. Many political leaders from countries neighbouring Brazil are doing all they can to help. Argentina is implementing a mandatory lockdown while Chile is administrating over 92 tests per 1,000 people (significantly higher than Brazil’s rate of testing 12 for every 1,000) despite its stressed healthcare system.
Nevertheless, South American countries cannot fight against COVID-19 alone. Luckily, there are ways to help, even from home. The Borgen Project advocates for emergency funding for the global COVID-19 response. Congress must support $20 billion in the global response to COVID-19, including funding for anti-hunger efforts as well as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. Any American citizen can call their state’s representatives and voice their support for increased foreign COVID-19 aid. Congress can act to increase funding for the International Affairs Budget after only a few calls, and provide funding to those suffering from this global pandemic.
– Bryce Thompson