'The whole country is collapsing' - Brazilian in Ireland fears for his homeland

In Brazil, where deaths are running at about 3,000 per day, accounting for one-quarter of the lives lost worldwide in recent weeks, the crisis has been likened to a 'raging inferno'
'The whole country is collapsing' - Brazilian in Ireland fears for his homeland

Henrique Aguiar originally from Brazil has lived in Dublin for the past eight years working with an international pharma company. Picture: Moya Nolan

Brazil’s healthcare system is in crisis as the country battles the deadliest phase of the Covid-19 pandemic so far.

Old graves are being emptied in Sao Paolo, Brazil’s largest city, to make way for the virus’ new victims while funeral hours have been extended late into the night to keep up with demand.

The global death toll from coronavirus has now topped a staggering three million people amid repeated setbacks in the worldwide vaccination campaign.

When the world back in January passed the bleak threshold of two million deaths, immunisation drives had just started in Europe and the United States.

Today, they are underway in more than 190 countries, though progress in bringing the virus under control varies widely.

In Brazil, where deaths are running at about 3,000 per day, accounting for one-quarter of the lives lost worldwide in recent weeks, the crisis has been likened to a "raging inferno".

More than 370,000 people have been killed by the virus across Brazil’s 26 states with thousands more dying every day.

Cemetery workers wearing protective gear lower the coffin of a person who died from complications related to Covid-19 into a gravesite at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  Picture: AP Photo/Andre Penner
Cemetery workers wearing protective gear lower the coffin of a person who died from complications related to Covid-19 into a gravesite at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  Picture: AP Photo/Andre Penner

A more contagious variant of the virus has been rampaging across the country.

As cases surge, hospitals are running out of critical sedatives.

As a result, there have been reports of some doctors diluting what supplies remain and even tying patients to their beds while breathing tubes are pushed down their throats.

The slow vaccine rollout has crushed Brazilians' pride in their own history of carrying out huge immunisation campaigns that were the envy of the developing world.

Taking cues from President Jair Bolsonaro, who has likened the virus to little more than a flu, his health ministry for months bet big on a single vaccine, ignoring other producers.

When bottlenecks emerged, it was too late to get large quantities in time.

Hospitals are so overwhelmed that some doctors now have to choose who to treat and who to let die.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the pandemic has been widely criticised both in Brazil and internationally. File Picture: AP Photo/Eraldo Peres
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the pandemic has been widely criticised both in Brazil and internationally. File Picture: AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

The World Health Organisation said hospitals are in a critical condition with many intensive care units almost full.

The highly contagious P1 variant is rampant throughout the country and concerns have been raised internationally that Brazil is now a breeding ground for new variants.

President Bolsonaro has continued to ignore calls for a lockdown, telling his citizens to “stop whining” about the virus last month.

Henrique Aguiar, a Brazilian living in Ireland, said that Bolsonaro’s Covid-skepticism and reluctance to lockdown the country is a dangerous political strategy to consolidate his voter base and drum up support ahead of next year’s election.

“The president is looking to the elections in 2022. He’s looking to those who need to work — businessmen, entrepreneurs and people with very poor conditions who need to work to keep food on the table,” Mr Aguiar said.

“Brazil has a huge population and it does not have adequate resources to give money to people to stay at home.

“And Brazil is used to death. In Brazil, it’s very common to die from nothing — a car accident, a stray bullet in a gunfight, a robbery.

“Brazilians have this feeling that death can happen anytime.

“So I think as a society we’ve lost a kindness and sensitivity for these scenarios because, on a daily basis, you hear about somebody dying.” 

Mr Aguiar, who moved to Cork eight years ago where he worked for Eli Lilli before moving to Dublin to work with Novartis five years ago, said that many Brazilian hospitals are already at 100% capacity and beds are limited in others.

“It’s really bad what’s going on in Brazil. The new variant is completely out-of-control there. It’s spreading quite fast and affecting a lot of young people in their 30s and 40s,” he said.

“When you combine the new variant with the lack of sensible leadership, it’s a disaster.

“The whole country is collapsing with the healthcare system,” he said.

“My family has not been too badly affected but I know of people who have died. And in my network of friends there, 80% to 90% have caught the virus.” 

Mr Aguiar supports the Irish government’s new hotel quarantine regulation for people arriving from 33 countries, including Brazil although he thinks it should have been done a lot sooner.

“I think the government took the decision too late. People, not just from Brazil, but from any country which has mismanaged the pandemic and poses some risk to Irish society, should be quarantined.

“From my personal point of view, although it affects me and my community, it has to be done. This is not a time to jeopardise all the work Ireland has done.

“Hotel quarantine should be in place to protect Ireland and the people here.

“But this should be in joint action with other European countries. If someone travels into another EU country they can then potentially travel into Ireland and undo all the good work Ireland has done to prevent the virus spreading.” 

Aerial view of graves of Covid-19 victims at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Amazon state, Brazil, on April 15, 2021.
Aerial view of graves of Covid-19 victims at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Amazon state, Brazil, on April 15, 2021.

Dubliner Cían Thompson moved to Rio de Janeiro in August, 2019.

He planned to become an English teacher but then Covid struck and work disappeared. 

He started an Instagram account, @cianobrasil, to help people learn English and to improve his own Portuguese. 

He quickly gathered almost 20,000 followers, producing comedic videos to make learning a language fun and gaining work as an English teacher.

He said that public health practices vary widely between regions and between urban and rural areas.

“In this city's case [Rio de Janeiro], in the city centre, the majority of people use masks because otherwise they would be refused entry to most if not all shops. 

"A large portion of these shops even enforce your hands to be cleaned with alcohol sprays, and take your temperature before entering if it is a large shop,” he said.

“The complicated thing is, that outside the city centre is almost like another world... Around where we live [in the suburbs of Angra dos Reis] only a small percentage of people actually use masks.

“This is a little strange and quite unsettling as there is a higher risk to contract Covid-19 through just going to get bread locally than going to the city centre where there are more people.

“Unfortunately there are some people who believe Covid isn't dangerous and some even believe it is fake, or just like the common cold... which is unfortunate to say the least as I know many people whose family members’ and parents’ lives were taken away from them because of Covid.

My heart goes out to anyone who lost their loved ones during this pandemic, especially those who are currently studying in Ireland with family from Brazil, as thousands are dying each week here in Brazil.

“The pandemic is quite concerning here, and emotional to say the least.

“It is especially stressful for those who are living or staying in São Paulo city since basically all of the hospital beds and ventilators are being used.” 

Mr Thompson also said that being unable to see family throughout the pandemic has been difficult. 

A trip planned by his parents to visit Mr Thompson, his wife and daughter in Rio was cancelled due to the pandemic. 

Mr Thompson's own flights to return to Ireland were also cancelled twice.

“It has been quite difficult being away from my family.

“I miss my mam and my dad sometimes. It is especially stressful whenever something happens to my grandad or my grandmother. I feel very anxious and nervous as I cannot do anything.

“The person I miss the most is my younger sister, Aimée. 

"I was very close to her when I was younger but since I moved out of my parents' house and gone to Brazil we have grown apart somewhat.” 

He said that the expense of hotel quarantine will now make a return home virtually impossible.

He is “divided” on the new quarantine rule as it will only prevent people with less money from seeing their family abroad while still allowing the wealthy to travel, he said.

Throughout the pandemic, he has tried to avoid watching "negative" TV, he avoids going out unnecessarily and focuses on achieving what positive things he can from home.

“It is scary to hear what is happening, so the best we can do is only go out when needed and be extra careful while keeping our distance from others," he said.

“President Bolsonaro does not have any policies, in fact, when questioned in regards to the thousands dying due to Covid per week, he did not care at all and mentioned that people die all the time and we should just move on.

“This is hugely disrespectful to the families destroyed by the virus and shows no empathy at all.

“I actually saw an egg [printed] with the phrase translated to mean "Stay home" (Yes. A chicken egg.) ... sadly an egg has done more to help the pandemic than the current President of Brazil, Bolsonaro.”

- Additional reporting by Associated Press

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