South America considers Brazil, epicenter of covid-19 in the region, a threat


The President of Argentina maintains that the neighboring country represents a “very great risk” due to the number of cases and the Paraguayan president affirms that he will not open the borders

The uncoordinated isolation measures taken by Brazilian leaders to deal with covid-19, which have contributed, according to experts, to the increase in cases in the country, are putting the authorities of neighboring countries on alert, which They have been more successful in fighting the epidemic. This week, the President of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benítez, has stated that Brazil is “a great threat” to the health security of his country due to the high rates of contagion by the new coronavirus. Both share 700 kilometers of a border that has been closed since mid-March. “With what Brazil is experiencing today, it does not occur to us to open our border. Brazil is perhaps today the place with the fastest expansion of the coronavirus in the world, and that is a great threat to our country, “he said. Argentine President Alberto Fernández has also expressed the same concern and stated, on a radio station, that Brazil represents a threat to South America: “It is a very big risk. Trucks from Brazil have been entering us with cargo transportation from San Pablo, which is one of the most infected places. So I say, I do not understand when speaking with so much irresponsibility, the truth is I do not understand, “he said.

With more than 11,500 deaths recorded by coronavirus, Brazil is today the sixth country in the world with the most fatalities due to the disease and has become the epicenter of covid-19 in South America with more than 168,000 infected. If we compare it with its neighboring countries, Brazil ranks first in the case fatality rate and second in the rate of increase in cases, only behind Peru – which has a very high level of testing and low case fatality -, according with the study prepared by the Health Operations and Intelligence Nucleus (NOIS), made up of scientists from the PUC-Rio University, the Instituto do Coração (InCor) and the Fiocruz Foundation, among other entities. The publication, which compared the escalation of the coronavirus in the region between April 13 and May 4, also showed that Uruguay, with about 3.5 million inhabitants, stands out as the country with the lowest rates of increase and greater control of the disease —currently, the country has 707 cases and 19 deaths. Paraguay, a country of 7.5 million inhabitants, is also one of those that has best contained the spread of the disease, with 724 cases and ten deaths.

But it was not only the least populated territories that have managed to avoid the accelerated spread of the pandemic. Argentina, the third nation by number of inhabitants in South America – about 45 million – is another example of a country that managed to tame, early, the accelerated advance of the virus with two measures of social isolation. Today it registers 6,000 confirmed cases and 305 deaths. Almost the same people live in the country as in the State of São Paulo, which now totals 46,131 cases and 3,743 coronavirus fatalities. The first case of covid-19 in Buenos Aires was registered on March 3, one week after the first positive in Brazil, on February 25. However, it was in Argentina where the first death from the disease occurred in the region, on March 7. Since then, the two countries have taken very different paths and have reached equally distant results.

Argentina launched the mandatory quarantine on March 20, when only one person had died as a result of covid-19. Days before, President Fernández had decreed the total closure of the borders and two weeks of confinement for all Argentines who had returned to the country from any of the outbreaks of contagion. The strategy, from the beginning, has been to abide by the recommendations of the epidemiologists, to the detriment of the economic sectors that warned about the consequences of a total stoppage of activities. Fernández personally took up the war against the coronavirus and his popularity grew as the sanitary success of the restrictions became more evident.

The positives have not yet skyrocketed in the country and the health system is barely suffering from the stress of the pandemic. The occupation of ICU beds does not reach 50% and the suspension of scheduled surgeries keep hospitals in minimal operation, waiting for the “peak of the pandemic”. In Argentina there are two provinces in which there is no case of coronavirus and other large regions in which the contagion rate multiplies every 25 days. The president announced last Friday two more weeks of mandatory confinement, but has had to start differentiating the rules by region. Buenos Aires and the metropolitan region, which concentrate more than 80% of positives, remain the same so far. In the provinces of the interior, a slow opening process began on Monday, with the controlled return of small businesses and the reopening of 640 industries from various sectors such as automotive, textile and tobacco. However, it still restricts construction, which moves a large amount of labor. These are harsh measures for a country that is already dragging two years of recession and is in the process of negotiating a debt of 70,000 million dollars with its private external creditors. Without fiscal margin, it depends on the printing of money to finance the millionaire aid that the Fernández Government is distributing among the poorest and small and medium-sized companies. The president, for the moment, claims to resist business pressure. “They are not going to twist my arm, I am going to take care of people first of all. Let’s finish this discussion in which they want us to believe that if we open the economy we will be better. There are people trapped by the anxiety of opening the economy, regardless of health, “he said.

Decisions about social distancing in the Brazilian states were also implemented relatively early, but the level of rigidity of these measures has been considerably lower than that of neighboring Argentina. Unlike Fernández, the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has been denying the dimension of the pandemic, which he calls neurosis, and defends the return to activities to save the country’s economy. A study by Rede de Pesquisa Solidária, an initiative of researchers from various universities and institutions in the country, revealed that a significant part of the Brazilian States began to relax or point to future relaxations of social distancing measures from the second week of April , without coordination and without reliable data on the number of infected or the expansion phase of the epidemic. As a result, the level of compliance with social distancing fell, even in the States that did not relax the measures, such as in São Paulo, which has prolonged the quarantine until the end of the month.

According to Argentina’s Lorena Barberia, a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of São Paulo and one of the authors of the study, one of the main methodologies used in Argentina to combat the pandemic was the existence of a decree that forced people to stay home. “It was not like in Brazil, where only schools, commerce and some activities were closed. There was total confinement throughout the country, and going outside was prohibited, with some exceptions. There was a legal restriction, and the authorities could fine you, “he says. The more restrictive measure is part of the explanation for the unequal isolation rates that the two countries had, for example, the fifth week after the first case of the disease. While the average in Brazil was 56%, that of Argentina was 77%. Likewise, Barberia points out that the management of the coronavirus crisis was coordinated differently in the two countries. “While in the Argentine case, the Federal Government, in coordination with its governors, imposed much more restrictive measures, in Brazil the measures of social distancing have been as in the United States [current world epicenter of the disease]: moderate and implemented with different criteria ”.

Epidemiologist Ana Freitas Ribeiro, from the Emílio Ribas Institute, agrees that the absence of a unitary speech between the Federal, state and municipal governments has caused the isolation rates in the country to decrease. “There are different languages ​​and messages all the time, which ends up hurting a lot. The president says that isolation is not necessary, and the governor of São Paulo tells you not to leave home. This [mismatch] reduces the isolation rate and increases the curve, “explains Ribeiro. According to the epidemiologist, Brazil also faces a great lack of tests for the population, which makes it difficult to contain the disease. Likewise, Ribeiro maintains that Brazil has lost the opportunity to have stalled part of the disease in early March. “The initial containment period was very bad. Someone from Morocco, for example, who had been with Chinese citizens and presented with a flu picture was not considered a suspect. The Ministry of Health excluded this case in the system because in Morocco there were still no positive for coronavirus. We should have sinned by excess ”.

A report by Imperial College London, with a specific emphasis on Brazil, recommends tougher actions to contain the spread of the pandemic. “Although the Brazilian pandemic is still relatively incipient on a national scale, our results suggest the need for more actions to limit its expansion and avoid overloading the health system,” reads the text published last Friday. According to the National Health Confederation (CNS), the public and private health care systems of at least six states are already saturated. The study also indicates that social isolation measures in Brazil were not sufficient to reduce contagion. Without new control rules that reduce transmission, the country faces the prospect of an epidemic that will continue to grow exponentially, according to scientists.

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