Politics and pseudoscience making Amazonas Covid-19 crisis even worse

. May 16, 2020
Cemetery in Manaus, capital city of Amazonas. Photo: Fernando Crispim/Amazônia Real Cemetery in Manaus, capital city of Amazonas. Photo: Fernando Crispim/Amazônia Real

The current situation in the Brazilian state of Amazonas is one of unbridled chaos. Covid-19 horror stories in the state capital of Manaus made the front pages of international newspapers, and there are reports that coronavirus infection rates are booming in the west of Amazonas, where populations are vulnerable and healthcare infrastructure is extremely precarious.

Amid the catastrophe, Governor Wilson Lima launched a plan to gradually reopen commerce in the state, based on a disastrous study led by a famous TV and radio finance pundit. Slated to begin on Thursday, the plan was heavily criticized and eventually nixed. Meanwhile, Governor Lima is facing requests for his impeachment.

</p> <h2>Based on &#8216;science&#8217;</h2> <p>At the end of April — the month that saw deaths in Amazonas rise 179.5 percent and bodies buried in mass graves known as &#8220;trenches&#8221; — Governor Wilson Lima announced that the state would begin reopening businesses, quoting a study commissioned by the administration that reckoned the contagion rate in Manaus had already peaked, and the Covid-19 curve would flatten by May 11.</p> <p>The <a href="">study in question</a> was coordinated by Samy Dana, an economist and frequent pundit on radio and television. Instead of heeding the advice of researchers from Imperial College London, the Amazonas state government got carried away with the conclusions of a non-peer reviewed study — coordinated by someone who went on television to (incorrectly) forecast the outcome of Big Brother the previous month — as it showed promising results for Manaus&#8217; Covid-19 curve and a good excuse to reopen the economy.</p> <p>Mr. Dany&#8217;s projections in Manaus, however, were very wrong. After stating the Covid-19 peak in the city had been reached at the end of April and forecasting a flattened infection curve by May 11, cases and deaths in Amazonas continue to rise at an alarming rate.</p> <p>Since the &#8220;peak&#8221; identified by the study on April 30, cases have more than tripled and deaths have quadrupled. Admitting his error, Governor Lima canceled the economic reopening plan.</p> <figure class="wp-block-embed-youtube wp-block-embed is-type-video is-provider-youtube wp-embed-aspect-16-9 wp-has-aspect-ratio"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> </div></figure> <h2>Impeached during a pandemic?</h2> <p>While it may seem paradoxical, the stress and anguish caused by a pandemic or similarly tragic health event are usually beneficial for elected officials. Back in April, we showed that leaders around the world had largely <a href="">enjoyed increased approval ratings</a> since the Covid-19 outbreak. Demonstrations of empathy and following expert advice are often enough to see presidents and prime ministers increase their stock, guiding their populations through a life-threatening crisis.</p> <p>In Brazil, this has not been the case. Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has lost support during the pandemic, due to playing down the severity of the disease and urging people to get back to work, essentially risking their lives. In Amazonas, a similar yet more convoluted situation is playing out with Governor Lima.</p> <p>In late April, the Amazonas Doctors&#8217; Union filed a request at the state legislative assembly to impeach Wilson Lima, for what they called his &#8220;poor administration of the health system and misconduct in office,&#8221; exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the key points of the petition regards the use of public funds in the purchase of respirators, reported to have been bought for seven times over market price.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="576" src="" alt="minas gerais test covid-19" class="wp-image-39401" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Amazonas Governor Wilson Lima. Photo: Facebook/Wilson Lima</figcaption></figure> <p>Interestingly, however, this popularity crisis of the Bolsonaro-supporting Mr. Lima dates back to well before the coronavirus outbreak. In December of last year, the governor was the subject of another impeachment request, which claimed he and his vice were to blame for a &#8220;severe public health crisis&#8221; in the state, long before the devastating arrival of Covid-19.</p> <p>The petition was thrown out due to a lack of concrete evidence of misconduct, but blamed Governor Lima for &#8220;ommission in proposing solutions to problems such as the lack of medication and inputs in hospitals, the lack of equipment, and the delay of almost six months in the salaries of outsourced health professionals.&#8221;</p> <p>With such a dramatic situation before the pandemic, it is perhaps no surprise that Covid-19 had such a devastating effect on Manaus and Amazonas state as a whole.</p> <p>This week, an appeals court judge suspended the impeachment proceedings against Mr. Lima on a technicality, meaning the process will be stalled until at least the end of next week.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Covid-19 cases in Amazonas continue to pile up. Thursday evening saw the state record another 1,365 infections in a single day, a new daily record. The coronavirus peak in the state and the city of Manaus has still yet to arrive.

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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