Northern Pará has been in lockdown since 1st February. A variant of the coronavirus identified in Manaus (Amazonas) has come to the neighbouring state and the local communities see the rapid growth of cases.
Quilombola Community, Oriximiná – Photo Carlos Penteado
The Amazon region, known as Lower Amazon, in the State of Pará, is experiencing a critical moment in the Covid-19 pandemic. Since January 2021, case numbers have been rising at an accelerated pace in a region that has a fragile structure of health care and a limited number of ICUs. The geographical isolation and great distances represent an extra challenge for patient care. This scenario and the confirmation of the presence of the new coronavirus strain in Manaus led the state government of Pará to determine a lockdown, which started on 1st February.
The strength of the second wave has sparked concerns in local communities “This second wave is growing. The number of cases is greater than in the first one. Before, there were 15-20 cases of people hospitalised and now there are almost 50 people. We are committed to talking to the leaders to advise people to stay in their communities”, said Evanilson Marinho de Figueiredo, 38, president of the organisation of riverside communities in Oriximiná, one of the municipalities that make up the Lower Amazon.
The data from the Oriximiná City Hall confirm Figueiredo’s concern: on 3 January, the municipality had 8 hospitalised people. A month later, the number of inpatients rose to 45. The number of deaths has also had a significant increase at the beginning of 2021. Until 3 January the pandemic had caused 73 deaths in Oriximiná. A month later, the deaths already totalled 89. On 9 February, there were more than 100 deaths.
The collapse of the health system in the city of Manaus is also of concern because many have relatives living in that city. “I have a daughter who lives there with my grandchildren. My daughter is pregnant, and she’ll have the baby in July. And with this whole situation, it’s complicated. Many people here, born in our community, live in Manaus, which is a concern for the families, as we see that the situation there is very critical”, vented Wanderly de Aquino Andrade, 52 years old, resident of Quilombo Muratubinha in the municipality of Óbidos.
One year of isolation
The second wave affects a population already tired and impacted by the pandemic. “We have been in this social isolation for almost one year, it’s been really hard. The people have the habit of going to the neighbour’s house. Now we can’t do that, we stay most of the time at home. Now I don’t go out for anything anymore. The only house I still visit is my mother’s, but with precaution, I don’t get too close. This is very distressing for us” reported Fátima Viana Lopes, 52, from the riverside community of Boa Nova.
However, not everyone maintained social distancing in the region. The community members indignantly watched mining activities proceed normally. The largest producer of bauxite in Brazil is located in this region, a company with shareholders from several countries (Vale, South32, Rio Tinto, Companhia Brasileira de Alumínio, Alcoa) that sells to Europe, North America, Asia and Brazil. “Unfortunately, mining continued, and as we cannot organise meetings, this will harm us because we are unable to confront it”, protested Evanilson Marinho. The mining activity was considered “essential activity” by the Brazilian government.
Solidarity and resistance
In 2020, the performance of the leaders made the difference to the community clarifying about the ways to prevent contagion. For Amarildo Santos de Jesus, 52, coordinator of the Quilombo Boa Vista Association, the initiative has always been intended to help communities stay safe. “I was very worried, I had to walk everywhere, distributing the materials. But at the same time, I was happy because we had material that could help reduce the risks. This made me feel calm and I really went with my heart, I care a lot about the people of the community”, he said.
“We had the support of the Comissão Pró-Índio bringing posters and guidelines for the communities and in the distribution of masks”, reported the riverine leader Evanilson. The work, however, was risky for those involved. “We are at risk both of contracting and transmitting [covid-19]. We take great care, clean and sanitise, but today my thought is that it’s a risk” added Evanilson.
Despite the risks, the leaders consider it essential to continue with the work, especially now with the second wave. “I want to thank the partnership with Comissão Pró-Índio, that is supporting us in this pandemic. We’ve received masks, and we are taking the materials and making people aware that this is our role as a leader. The articulations and visits in the communities, we always make with great caution. But it is important to keep this work, our presence gives more incentive for people to wear masks and take care of themselves”, recalled Redinaldo Alves da Silva, 48, quilombola leader of the Association of Remaining Quilombo Communities of the Municipality of Óbidos.
Riverside community – Photo Carlos Penteado
The vaccine still far from Amazonian communities
The beginning of the vaccination campaign in Brazil at the end of January 2021 brought hope that the situation could change, “We are hopeful! When I have the opportunity, I want to be vaccinated”, reported Fátima Viana Lopes, 52 years old. “This is good news for everyone, but we know it will take a while to get to our group as frontline staff and people over 80 will be vaccinated first,” said Redinaldo Alves, who is in the risk group.
However, the omission of President Bolsonaro’s government delayed the start of vaccination and left Brazilians with no guarantee of the necessary doses to immunise the entire population.
Quilombolas and riverside dwellers remain in isolation without knowing when they will be vaccinated.