Like in most countries, the pandemic in Brazil hit the elderly and immuno-compromised first and hardest. But, reports Stars and Stripes, in the past couple of months, the nation that has stood out as nearly a worst-case-scenario for caseloads, deaths and public policy, has shown where the global plague may be headed: for the young.
In March, 3,405 Brazilians aged 30 to 39 died from COVID, almost four times the number in January. Among those in their 40s, there were about 7,170 fatalities, up from 1,840, and for those 20-29, deaths jumped to 880 from 245. Those under 59 now account for more than a third of COVID deaths in Brazil, according to research firm Lagom Data. As the elderly get vaccinated, their deaths have fallen by half.
The report says there are many causes for the alarming shift but one appears to be that the young have trouble accepting they are at risk. “Because they’re young and the virus first infected the elderly population, they don’t believe or don’t want to believe that it can be serious,” said Dr Suzana Morais, a cardiologist in Rio de Janeiro. “I’ve seen many young patients who are surprised. Others are aware but take risks.”
It’s also true that after months of government aid and staying home, the money is running out and people have to work again, exposing them to risk in a society that hasn’t done well at imposing masks and distancing.
In Loco, a platform specialised in monitoring social distancing in Brazil, says that, in most states, the social isolation rate hovered around 40% in March, higher than at the beginning of February but still well below the 70% officials say is needed to slow transmission. Another issue is the Brazilian variant of the virus that appears to be more contagious.
Numbers have started to stabilise but, the report says, Brazilians act as if the virus were gone. Rio de Janeiro lifted most bans earlier this month, when it saw a drop in patients, re-opening non-essential business and allowing for dining in bars and restaurants.
Elen Geraldes, a sociologist at the University of Brasilia, says a big problem is the lack of guidance from the top, a mishmash of policies that vary from state to state and city to city with little enforcement. President Jair Bolsonaro often minimises the seriousness of the disease, saying the economic toll will be far worse than that of the virus. Last weekend, like he’s done throughout, Bolsonaro gathered a crowd of supporters, shaking hands and kissing babies.
Cases have stopped rising. Deaths, which still routinely top 3,000 a day, will take longer to stabilise, according to health experts. Vaccinations have picked up, though they remain below the daily rate pledged by the government of 1m a day.
“We don’t have a unified message from the government about the real need for social distancing,” said Morais. “In the end, young people don’t respect this much. You have an economically active population that needs to work and they simply don’t have many options.”