Global South fights Covid-19, crime and denial

Peru has struggled with citizens disobeying lockdown rules, Mexico’s murder rate has spiked, and Brazil has a president who still believes the coronavirus is a ‘little flu’.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage across the globe, placing strain on developed countries’ healthcare systems, fears are mounting in the Global South about nations’ preparedness and ability to cope with the outbreak.

In India, the rate of Covid-19 infections have been doubling every four days, but the three-week lockdown announced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi means vulnerable and impoverished rural people will struggle to make an income and feed their families

In South Africa, the number of Covid-19 infections are over 2 000, with at least 25 people having died as a result of contracting the virus. The government announced a relaxation of some of the lockdown regulations before the lockdown was extended last week, allowing taxi operators to fill their vehicles to 70% capacity and letting spaza shops and street vendors resume trade.

In South America, Brazil has been one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus, but its neighbouring countries are also struggling to deal with the intensity of the outbreak.  

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Ecuador has emerged as one of the epicentres on the continent. The country is taking such strain that the government has begun storing the bodies of those who die from Covid-19 in giant refrigerated containers.

The news agency Reuters reported that in the city of Guayaquil, the centre of Ecuador’s outbreak, morgues and hospitals had been filled up already by 5 April. The tiny country had recorded at least 315 deaths from the virus by 12 April, the second-highest tally after Brazil.

Reuters reported that President Lenin Moreno said the number of deaths were likely higher, and “the government expected the total number of deaths in Guayaquil’s surrounding province to reach up to 3 500”. A “special camp” was also being built to bury the dead.

A president in denial

While Ecuador is scrambling to deal with the outbreak, Brazil’s controversial president, Jair Bolsonaro, has echoed his United States counterpart, Donald Trump, in downplaying the severity of the virus and urging his people to carry on with their lives as normal. 

Bolsonaro has referred to the virus as a “little flu” multiple times and scoffed at the “hysteria” surrounding the ongoing crisis as his country saw the number of infections jump to more than 21 000 cases by 12 April. At the time, Brazil had recorded 688 deaths as a result of the coronavirus.

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Reuters reported that, despite downplaying the crisis, Bolsonaro had called for a national day of fasting and prayer to “free Brazil from this evil” pandemic.

Early in March, Bolsonaro had a meeting with Trump in the US. After his return to Brazil, at least 15 members of his delegation tested positive for the virus. Despite continuing speculation, he maintained that his test results had been negative.

Bolsonaro’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis has led to increased indignation from citizens and state governors, who have refused to follow his commands. The UK Guardian reported on 1 April that state governors responsible for 200 million of Brazil’s 210 million people had refused to follow his order for Brazilians to return to work. 

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Bolsonaro’s detractors said they were ashamed of his behaviour because he was putting people’s lives in danger. 

“By doing those things, and by telling people to go to their streets, and actually going himself to greet the crowds, which he did last weekend, he’s putting lives in danger,” a member of the Brazilian Congress, Tabata Amaral, told Al Jazeera. “I’m very ashamed by all of the things he is doing, especially in moments of crisis. We need a leader who tells people everything will be alright.”

She added: “I do think he should be held accountable for everything he’s doing – but after the crisis. I don’t think my country can handle another crisis on top of coronavirus right now.”

An angry and distrustful citizenry 

Ordinary citizens in Brazil told New Frame last week they weren’t convinced that enough people were being tested for Covid-19. They also didn’t believe the lockdown regulations that had been imposed on citizens were strict enough. 

Liliane Neves de Souza, 33, who lives in Salvador in the state of Bahia, north of Rio de Janeiro, said the spread of the virus had changed her life. 

“Being in lockdown has made my mood more susceptible to changes throughout the day. I also realise that I am more anxious, with a little fear of the future, and quite sad about my country’s health policy,” she said. 

“I am extremely angry with President Bolsonaro and all his irresponsible attitudes concerning the pandemic. First of all, he is in denial. He denies that coronavirus can harm people. He is more worried about his neoliberal economic policies and is encouraging people to break the lockdown and return to their ‘normal lives’.” 

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De Souza said some citizens were sceptical of Brazil’s official coronavirus statistics because the public health system neglects large numbers of the population. 

“The only thing Bolsonaro is doing now is disturbing governors and mayors with his crazy conspiracy theories. He is a shame in all senses,” she said. 

Felipe Borges de Oliveira Ferreira, 29, who lives in São José do Rio Preto in the state of São Paulo, operates an ice-cream parlour in the city. He said he was fearful of the impact it might have on his life, and that many other businesses would also suffer as a result of the lockdown. Despite this, he thought a stricter lockdown was needed to prevent the virus spreading even further.

“The lockdown here is very weak. Just some stores and restaurants are closed, but you can order food and receive it at home or get it as to go. Supermarkets are full, and there are no restrictions to get to the streets,” he said. “I think they should take more drastic measures to control people to stay home. If it stays like it is, in the winter more people will die. 

“Our president is not great, and he is considering it to be a small flu. I think the government has been a little slow to communicate and take decisions on what they will do to control all this and help people,” said De Oliveira Ferreira. 

Clamping down on disobedience

Elsewhere in South America, some countries have enforced much stricter lockdowns. Peru and Panama have both instituted somewhat unorthodox rules, such as that men and women are permitted to leave their homes only on certain days. 

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra announced on 2 April that men would only be allowed to leave their homes on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays to stock up on essentials, while women would be permitted to leave their homes on Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays. Everybody would have to stay at home on Sundays.

“We have to get fewer people to be on the streets every day,” Vizcarra said of the new regulations during a virtual news conference. 

After concerns were raised about how it would affect people from the LGBTQIA+ community, Vizcarra said: “The armed forces and national police will have clear instructions so that this is not at all a pretext for any homophobic measure.” 

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The Turkish news agency Anadolu reported that these regulations would be relaxed for essential workers so that they could leave their homes on days other than the gender-based ones.

In Panama, the days men and women are permitted to leave their homes are the opposite.

“Due to the majority of people leaving their homes despite the mandatory national quarantine, the government has taken more severe measures to protect the health of the people,” the news agency reported

Leyla Patricia Yulieth Carranza Cerna, 24, who lives in Trujillo, a coastal city in Peru, said she was terrified that one of her family members would be infected by the virus. Although she believed the government had taken the necessary measures to prevent its spread, she had mixed feelings about the distribution of aid to mitigate the negative effects on vulnerable families, such as baskets of basic goods. 

“We can still see politicians taking advantage of the situation and not properly disposing of the aid. I am only a little satisfied with the government’s actions. I am indignant about the management of the provincial mayors, who do not know to whom to give the aid that is provided, and give it to people who do not need it,” she said.

There have been incidents of police clamping down with force on those breaking the lockdown in Peru, and Cerna said she had seen many people not complying with government orders. 

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“In my city, people still go out without complying with the quarantine, or when they go out, they do not comply with the metre or metre-and-a-half distance. In my neighborhood there is a market nearby, and I have witnessed a lot of people taking advantage of the situation by raising food prices in an exaggerated way and not complying with the preventive measures given. 

“In supermarkets there is no shortage of food, but there is a tense and hostile environment, with worried people who tend to buy many things in large quantities,” she said. 

In Mexico, the country reportedly had a record number of murders in March, despite Covid-19 lockdowns. The UK Guardian reported that 2 585 murders were recorded, the highest monthly figure since record-keeping began in 1997. 

By 12 April, Mexico had over 4 200 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 273 people had died.

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