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Brazil under the shadow of Covid

As the corona virus pandemic continues to sweep across the world since appearing in the city of Wuhan in China in December 2019, Latin America has become a new hotspot in the spread of the disease according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Amongst Latin American countries Brazil, the largest and most populous, has seen the worst effects and the largest number of infections and deaths, second only to the United States.

The number of people who have tested positive have now surpassed 2 million and almost 80,000 people have died (as of 17 July 2020). A number of factors have contributed to the situation - some political, others circumstantial - and the crisis looks far from over in a country whose economy was already struggling and is facing a likely recession, the second in 5 years.

Brazil is a vast country with a large and ethnically diverse population of over 200 million people. It is also one of the most unequal societies in the world and the coronavirus pandemic has hit the poorest by far the hardest.

Brazil should have been well placed to deal with Covid-19 via its Unified Health System (SUS), a free health care system that covers around four fifth of the population. The country is also organised on a federal model which gives state governors and local officials a level of independence in implanting measures to counter Covid. The political leadership, however, has mismanaged the crisis throughout, lacking clarity and unity and undermining the work of health workers on the ground.

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's right wing president, initially brushed off the pandemic by calling Covid-19 a "little flu". In the course of the crisis he has sacked one health minister and caused another to resign, both citing internal conflict in the administration. Instead, he appointed Eduardo Pazuello, a military general with no health experience, to act as "coordinator" and other military personnel to senior positions in the health ministry.

Throughout the crisis, Bolsonaro has downplayed the seriousness of the disease and publicly spoken out against lockdowns, even turning up at anti-quarantine rallies in the capital Brasilia. Desperate to re-open the economy and avoid the slide into another recession, the president has contradicted state governors' advice and polarised Brazilian society. Like his US counterpart Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has touted the unproven anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as treatment and refused to wear a face mask in public. On July 7 he tested positive for coronavirus and had to self-isolate for two weeks.

Covid-19 has preyed on the country's poor most severely. In Paraisopolis, a poor southern district of Sao Paulo, people live in poor sanitary conditions in the notorious local favela whose hospital is short of protective equipment and struggling to cope with the constant arrival of patients with Covid-19. Local stadiums have been converted into temporary Covid wards yet even these are being overwhelmed with new cases. One in every 2,752 residents of the megacity had tested positive as of July 8th.

For poor residents of urban slums and poor neighbourhoods the choices are stark. Millions of people working in the informal economy have little recourse to state help and simply have to go to work in order to be able to eat that day. The government introduced a 600 reais (USD 110) monthly benefit in April but people have had to queue for hours at banks to collect their grants. Many families have had to choose between paying their rent and buying food, leading to thousands of evictions and people ending up camping out on the street or in shacks on the city limits.

Lalo de Almeida has been documenting the devastating effect the health crisis is having on a country whose poorer citizens were already reeling from years of recession and economic crisis. His images are a stark reminder of the appalling economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on people who have little or no financia
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