At the end of last week, Brazil passed two devastating landmarks with regards to the Coronavirus pandemic – writes Claudia Webbe MP
On the same day as the official death figures from Covid-19 passed 251,000 (this is the second highest in the world despite many people suggesting this total under-estimates the real figure) the largest country in South America also saw its highest daily toll yet, with 1,582 Brazilians dying.
Since then it has worsened still,with a new record of 1726 daily lives lost from March 1-2, and Brazil’s public health system is approaching breaking point, with most of the country’s intensive care units close to fully occupied.
Alongside the British Government and the now thankfully departed Trump in the US, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has ‘overseen’ a disastrous response to Coronavirus.
Having dismissed the pandemic as just “a little flu” last year, figures from across Brazilian society still accuse the increasingly unpopular President of failure on many counts, including a slow vaccination rollout (only 3% have received the jab so far) and an uncoordinated government response in a situation where more contagious new variants of the virus are blazing through parts of the country, including remote indigenous areas.
The picture is dire throughout the country, with the infection rate rising in every state, and according to the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, an institution linked to the Ministry of Health, “the occupancy rates of ICU beds for COVID-19 for adults reveal the worst scenario observed” yet.
This tragic situation means that hospitals in 17 state capitals are overwhelmed with cases, according to the government research institute Fiocruz.
More than 90% of intensive care beds are full in the Amazon cities of Manaus and Porto Velho,” with an epidemiologist in Manaus being quoted last week as saying “we observed a very rapid growth in the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Manaus. In a matter of two weeks, the health system collapsed.”
Showing a lack of preparation and support, this area was one of the worst effected last year and it has been reported that it currently lacks oxygen and health devices for its patients, as well as PPE and other equipment for medical staff.
The human impact of such failures is very real – in January in Manaus over 50 people died due to the lack of oxygen and intensive care unit (ICU) beds.
Yet just as the country faces another catastrophic rise in the deadly virus, incredibly Bolsonaro decided now was the time to again discourage the use of masks and encourage more ‘opening up.’ Such a response typifies that of the far and hard-right across the globe, always putting the short-term interests of few to make profit ahead of the needs of people and their health, and indeed the long-term interests of the economy,
And earlier this year, the far-right President astonishingly said “I can’t do anything,” whilst seeking to blame the media and regional governments for the health and economic crises.
In light of his disastrous handling of the pandemic, and associated failures in so many other areas of public policy including unemployment rising to 14 million, it is perhaps not surprising that opposition to Bolsonaro is growing.
A recent weekend for example saw demonstrators in over 70 cities against the far-right President, with people rallying to demand an immediate and free COVID-19 vaccination for the entire population, and calling for Bolsonaro to go.
Protestors also called for the return of COVID-19 related emergency relief packages which the Government astonishingly recently suspended, when 40 million Brazilians live in extreme poverty.
And as has happened since the start of this crisis, thousands of people across the country bang their pots and pans regularly to call for Bolsonaro to go.
Additionally, over 70 impeachment requests have been submitted to the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies against Bolsonaro, ranging from issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic; police brutality and racism, the destruction of the Amazon and the rocketing of poverty.
Opposition is not just from left-wing ‘usual suspects’ – a coalition of religious leaders also recently issued a call for his impeachment, backed by 17 Christian movements and 380 bishops, priests, and pastors.
According to a recent poll from Datafolha, Bolsonaro’s popularity is plummeting fast. The amount of Brazilians that considers the president’s administration bad or the worst, increased from 32 percent to 40 percent in just one month, from December 2020 to January 2021.
And the unpopular President can also expect further resistance against further right-wing policies that have recently been announced, including the privatisation of the country’s natural parks, including natural spaces in the Amazon. He has also announced relaxing gun laws to much public dismay.
Inspired by Trump’s recent defeat in the US, the growing resistance in Brazil deserves massive international solidarity – from the need to put people and their health first in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, to the need to protect our environment, to making the slogan of ‘Black Lives Matter’ a reality, their fight is our fight.
Claudia Webbe is the Vice-Chair of the Brazil Solidarity Initiative and Member of Parliament for Leicester East, England.