With 15,000-plus deaths, why did São Paulo close a field hospital?

. Jul 04, 2020
With 15,000-plus deaths, why did São Paulo close a field hospital? Pacaembu field hospital. Photo: Caio Pederneiras/Shutterstock

Home to over 10 percent of the country’s population, Greater São Paulo is also Brazil’s Covid-19 epicenter. Total cases have topped 300,000, and more than 15,000 have died from the disease. If São Paulo were its country, it would have recorded higher coronavirus tallies than Germany or Russia. On June 29, São Paulo registered an average of nearly 8,000 new coronavirus cases each day. Despite this, Mayor Bruno Covas has announced the shutdown of a field hospital.

The facility in question had been set up inside the Pacaembu football stadium, on the pitch itself, and had been in operation since April 6. It was initially slated to treat patients until July 31, but a drop off in demand brought its termination forward.

</p> <p>Despite having a full capacity of 200 people, on the day it was closed there were only five patients admitted to the field hospital. Local health authorities transferred these people to another temporary facility across the city.</p> <p>According to news website G1, 1,500 patients were <a href="">admitted</a> to the Pacaembu field hospital, and 99.8 percent survived, with the temporary facility unable to treat severe cases.</p> <p>With a total cost of BRL 23 million, this works out as BRL 15,300 (USD 2,900) per patient — far higher than what <a href="">Brazil usually spends on healthcare</a>.</p> <p>“Over the past four weeks, we have seen a decrease in hospitalization requests, both in ICU and nursing beds. We thought there was no longer a need for the Pacaembu field hospital [to remain open],” said Mr. Covas, who himself <a href="">tested positive for Covid-19 on June 14</a>.</p> <h2>The coronavirus spread in São Paulo</h2> <p>Despite the lower level of occupation in the state capital&#8217;s hospital beds, the government&#8217;s official data shows no significant improvement elsewhere in São Paulo state. The case curve is still rising, with more than 12,444 cases confirmed on June 2. The average for the past seven days is a daily increase of 7,500 cases.&nbsp;</p> <p>The number of deaths has seen a marked reduction but is still averaging over 200 per day. The peak seven-day average of 276 occurred less than two weeks ago.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3074776" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3074776" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <p>To understand the apparent contradiction between the state&#8217;s Covid-19 tallies and the closure of the Pacaembu field hospital, it is important to comprehend how these temporary facilities work, says infectious disease expert Jamal Suleiman, from São Paulo’s Emílio Ribas Institute.</p> <p>Mr. Suleiman emphasizes that, at the beginning of the pandemic in Brazil, field hospitals were the fastest and most efficient way to significantly increase the number of beds available to the population, but it is not a definitive solution. “It is a war hospital. If you no longer need it because you improved another space, that&#8217;s not a problem. In São Paulo, field hospitals were set up in central areas, and the epidemic is now in the suburbs”, Mr. Suleiman tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. The equipment used at the Pacaembu facility will be distributed to other hospitals around the city. Asked whether the health structure in São Paulo’s suburbs has improved since March, the doctor confirmed that was the case.</p> <p>On the other hand, despite agreeing with the specific closure of the Pacaembu field hospital, he does not think that this can be labeled “good news”. Mr. Suleiman says the low demand for beds is a momentary situation in a city that has another field hospital in operation. But he is unsure whether the facility will have to be reopened in the near future. “It is the first wave [of Covid-19]. I saw images of crowded bars, and I was dreading what will happen in 14 days.”</p> <p>The pandemic in Brazil started in cities that received flights from other countries, with São Paulo being the best example. In what is the wealthiest city in the country, there was no health system collapse, unlike what was seen in <a href="">Manaus</a> and Natal. </p> <h2>Mismanagement nationwide</h2> <p>Mr. Suleiman is heavily critical of how the pandemic has been managed in Brazil, deeming that the country has failed in its communication about the crisis and has been unable to prevent the transmission of the virus.</p> <p>According to him, the government failed because it did not provide the means for people to stay home. “Brazil is dealing with the situation very badly because, from the beginning, there was a lack of leadership in the strict sense of the word. We didn’t need heroes; we needed a single message. Not this dystopian situation that nowhere in the world has had to endure,” he says, of the role of the president Jair Bolsonaro, calling the number of deaths in the country &#8220;obscene&#8221; and unacceptable.</p> <p>However, despite the government, he is of the view that Brazil is softening a tragedy that could have been significantly worse. “Treatment is not done exclusively in hospital beds; several things have been poorly managed. But the situation has not gotten worse thanks to the work of health technicians. If it weren&#8217;t for them, we would have already seen the tragedy of bodies on the street.”

José Roberto Castro

José Roberto covers politics and economics and is finishing a Master's Degree in Media and Globalization. Previously, he worked at Nexo Jornal and O Estado de S. Paulo.

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