Health News

Brazil starting to ease lockdown restrictions, even as total coronavirus deaths surpass Spain’s

Brazil has reported a daily death toll of more than 1,000 over the past week and a record spike in cases Thursday. Despite these figures, many states are planning to ease restrictions and allow nonessential businesses to reopen.

In particular, Sao Paolo – the country’s most populous state – has announced that it will allow shopping malls to reopen on June 1. The state is also home to the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in the country, and health authorities report a still-rising number of deaths in the region.

According to Gov. Joao Doria, economic activity will only be allowed in areas where there is only a slow increase in daily cases and there are enough intensive care beds available. In other parts of the state, stay-at-home recommendations will remain in effect until June 15.

Aside from shopping malls, the state will also allow stores, offices, car dealerships and real estate brokerages to reopen, as long as social distancing measures are observed and masks are used. Bars, restaurants, theaters and sports centers, however, will remain closed.

States reopen despite ballooning number of cases

Mayors of neighboring municipalities have complained to state authorities about the governor’s move, saying that it can bring more cases of infections to their areas.

Doria, together with Gov. Wilson Witzel of Rio de Janeiro, has been at loggerheads with President Jair Bolsonaro over how to tackle the pandemic in Brazil. The state governors had urged their residents to stay at home, even as the president pushed for the states to reopen their economy by downplaying the virus as a “little flu.”

Bolsonaro has frequently criticized the two governors. On Wednesday, federal police raided Wilson’s residence in Rio de Janeiro over claims of alleged corruption, which the governor said was a move made to dismantle the president’s top political rival. (Related: Brazil becomes new global coronavirus hotspot, but Bolsonaro doesn’t even mention it in cabinet meeting.)

The rainforest state of Amazonas, considered to be one of the hardest-hit areas in the country, is also relaxing its restrictions. In a statement, Gov. Wilson Lima announced that nonessential businesses can reopen on Monday after weeks of being placed under strict restrictions.

Lima’s decision, however, was sharply criticized by Arthur Virgilio Neto, mayor of the state capital Manaus. While the number of deaths in the capital has gone down, Neto warned that it’s too soon to reopen the economy. A second wave of the coronavirus in the state, he warns, could prove to be deadlier than the first.

Last month, the city’s healthcare system collapsed after it was inundated with a surge of coronavirus cases; authorities ordered the dead to be buried in mass graves, as cemeteries were already overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, malls and shopping centers were allowed to reopen in Brasilia, the country’s capital city, but only a few people showed up at stores.

Running out of resources

Brazilian health officials, speaking to ITV News, revealed that the country hasn’t reached the peak of the virus. Also, they noted that critical care units in the country are already at about 90 percent capacity, and available hospital beds and respirators are running out. In response, field hospitals will be built to augment the shortage.

Brazil now has 465,166 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. In addition, the Ministry of Health has reported 27,878 total deaths, putting the country ahead of Spain in overall coronavirus-related deaths worldwide.

Public health experts, however, say that these figures do not reflect the actual number of cases and deaths in Brazil, as these have been underreported because of insufficient testing.

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