Crowded beaches and bars, confused measures by the authorities to avoid New Year’s gatherings, delay in vaccination: submerged since November by the second wave of COVID-19, Brazil risks seeing the situation further worsen.
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In this country of 212 million inhabitants of continental dimensions, where the virus has already killed more than 192,000 people, “the number of cases and deaths could increase even more than at the worst time” of the first wave, warns Luiz Gustavo de Almeida, microbiologist from the University of Sao Paulo.
“The peak of the pandemic was in May and June, when there was less movement of people because people were paying more attention. But now a lot of people are behaving as if the pandemic does not exist, ”he adds.
The southern summer has already started, with very hot weather and beaches often full of swimmers.
In recent days, many videos circulating on social networks also show archibondée evenings, full of revelers without masks, in all regions of the country.
The news channels even broadcast live police operations to close bars receiving dozens of customers, especially in Sao Paulo.
In this megalopolis, the economic capital of Brazil, the authorities ordered the closure of non-essential businesses from January 1 to 3.
In Rio de Janeiro, where millions of people usually gather on the beaches to welcome the New Year with lavish fireworks, the town hall plans to install police roadblocks to block all access to the coast at night. of December 31.
But in Manaus (north), the authorities backed down after protests from traders, and the streets of the city center were crowded on Boxing Day, while hospitals were close to saturation.
In this city nestled in the heart of the Amazon, the municipal cemetery is again overwhelmed by the increase in burials, with queues of vehicles carrying coffins at the entrance. Nightmarish scenes reminiscent of the worst moments of the first wave of the pandemic.
Like the European summer
In this context, rumors of a giant party of star footballer Neymar with dozens of guests near Rio arouse outrage.
For Luiz Gustavo de Almeida, Brazil risks seeing “the same thing as in Europe at the end of the summer”, with a relaxation which has caused a sharp increase in contamination.
“You have to educate people to make them understand the importance of social distancing, with transparent information,” explains Natalia Pasternak, director of the Institut Questao de Ciencia (Question of science).
But many Brazilians are reluctant to face the restrictions, a sentiment fueled by the attitude of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly played down the pandemic.
“I think the media sometimes exaggerate and that some authorities lie to us. It’s already been going on for too long, you can’t stop everything because of an illness, ”says Maria Rocha, manager of a small clothing store in Sao Paulo.
Delay on vaccines
For Julio Croda, infectious disease specialist of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, the salvation could come from a vaccine, but Brazil is “very late”.
The date for the start of the vaccination campaign has still not been set, while Europe, the United States and even neighboring countries such as Chile or Argentina have already started to immunize their populations.
The government plans to buy 360 million doses, including 210 million of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford with the AstraZeneca laboratory, most of which will be manufactured locally, by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation.
Brasilia must also buy 70 million doses of the American-German vaccine Pfizer-BioNTech.
But no laboratory has yet submitted an application for certification to the regulatory agency Anvisa, an essential step to kick off the vaccination campaign.
“To vaccinate the population, you need political will, an effective plan and logistical resources. I haven’t seen any of that yet, ”laments Natalia Pasternak.