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How an outbreak happens in a continental country such as Brazil

. Apr 10, 2020
outbreak airports brazil Brasilia Airport. Photo: Paulo H. Carvalho/ABsb

Since the World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic, The Brazilian Report has explained the impacts of the virus on Brazil, whether in the economy, politics, or society. As of Friday evening, the country has almost 18,000 confirmed cases and 941 deaths. That the country’s health system is unable to serve a large contingent of people, whether public or private, is hardly news for Brazilians. In fact, it was the private sector that first felt the effects of Covid-19’s rapid transmission, as the virus arrived in Brazil from the well-traveled elite and middle class.

A survey by newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo showed that the majority of cases of Covid-19 in

the city of São Paulo are reported in the expanded city center, where the cost of living is much higher than in peripheral neighborhoods. In Rio de Janeiro, the first recorded death was a 60-year-old housekeeper who had caught the virus from her employer, who had just returned from a trip to Italy.</p> <p>This top-down transmission is a result of Brazilian <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-weekly/2019/08/17/brazil-currency-inequality-amazon-deforestation/">social inequality</a>, which allows only a small portion of the country to travel abroad. Air travel within Brazil is also reserved for those with financial means, with a last-minute ticket from São Paulo to northern city Belém easily costing around BRL 3,000.</p> <p>Researchers at the <a href="https://covid19br.github.io/">Covid-19 Observatory</a> used this model of contagion to diagnose how the outbreak spread across the country. Scientists quantified the vulnerability of each Brazilian state to contagion as a function of the direct and indirect flight routes connecting the nation.</p> <p>&#8220;Our analyzes indicate an association between this measure of centrality and the date of the first recorded case. While this relationship is just a correlation, it may indicate which states are most vulnerable, as a result of air traffic, to be hit more quickly by an epidemic,&#8221; wrote the researchers.</p> <p>According to the study, the pandemic in Brazil began in South America&#8217;s largest city São Paulo. It then spread to Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo, moving on to Minas Gerais, Bahia, and Brasília. The following map, by geolocation company In Loco — developed in partnership with the University of São Paulo — shows routes from the São Paulo-Guarulhos Airport to the rest of the country.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="600" height="323" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/ezgif.com-optimize.gif" alt="outbreak brazil" class="wp-image-38082"/><figcaption>Source: In Loco/USP</figcaption></figure> <p>Today, <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/03/22/covid-19-spreads-to-all-brazilian-states/">all Brazilian states have confirmed Covid-19 cases</a>, with São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasília being among the most critical cases. The first two are due to the overall total of confirmed infections and deaths, and the third to the number of infections and deaths per 1 million inhabitants.</p> <p>The virus doesn&#8217;t only travel fast on airplanes. A study by the State University of São Paulo (Unesp) listed the cities in São Paulo with the highest risk of contagion during the pandemic, all of which are situated along the state&#8217;s main highways.</p> <p>Twenty Brazilian cities account for 73 percent of Covid-19 cases in the country. Of this total, 14 are state capitals, and the other six are cities in the metropolitan regions of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="story/257375" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/story/257375/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>Containing the outbreak: isolation in debate</h2> <p>Soon after the start of the pandemic, virtually all 27 Brazilian state governors took measures to limit the movement of the population, such as closing non-essential activities and asking people to self-isolate. Over time, some state administrators have relaxed these containment measures and some businesses are operational once more.</p> <p>However, states such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have remained steadfast and uphold quarantine measures, despite being opposed by President Jair Bolsonaro.</p> <p><a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/04/08/risks-loosening-isolation-measures-brazil-too-soon/">But studies are already underway to review social isolation measures across the country</a>, in a bid to revive the economy and prevent a recession that could bring GDP down by 6.5 percent, according to Itaú. <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/04/05/brazil-inability-produce-reliable-covid-19-data-obstacle-policymaking/">This change must be very well calculated</a>, because, as explained by the scientists at the Covid-19 Observatory, the number of people infected in epidemics grows exponentially — especially at the beginning of an outbreak — which causes the number of cases to double in a short amount of time.</p> <p>This uncontrolled growth in a country where there is a <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/03/29/low-testing-casts-doubt-over-covid-19-reality-brazil/">strong suspicion of underreporting</a> could prove to be disastrous for poor communities. Lower-income neighborhoods in Brazil are often far more densely populated — as is the example of favelas — and isolation becomes near impossible.

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Brenno Grillo

Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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