Things are not OK

Even with over 100,000 deaths, does it feel like the pandemic is over?

Experts explain how a “return to normalcy” may give the impression that covid-19 is going away

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
Even with an ever growing number of coronavirus infections, people are again packing the streets of São Paulo - Marina Duarte de Souza/Brasil de Fato

“I think it’s already going back to normal, that’s why it’s packed, people are gathering. We’re even afraid to go inside places, because it’s so packed”, says Altirene Fonseca Barbosa, a 37 year old seamstress about the current state of affairs in the city of São Paulo, amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The municipality of São Paulo is the most populous in Brazil, with 12,1 million inhabitants. It also leads the nation when it comes to covid-19, with over 628 thousand confirmed cases and 25 thousand deaths.

Another one of the city’s residents, 19 year old mechanic Paulo Aparecido do Nascimento dias, has the same feeling, that the population thinks the pandemic is ending. He believes that people are not “taking the disease seriously. “I’ve been invited to many parties. It’s been two months already that people are making these invitations, and people are barbecuing quite often, inviting me to them”, he tells us. 

46 year old street vendor Wellington Silva is certain that things are “going back to normal”. He resumed working as a coconut water seller on the streets of São Paulo a week ago, after the go ahead was given by local authorities. He says that the shopping mall next to his stand will also soon be back to operating fully during commercial hours. “A store manager came to have some coconut water and told us that they filed the paperwork with the mayor’s office, and that starting next week they will be back to working from 10am to 10pm”, he recounts. 

Over the last few weeks, stories such as these about a return to “normalcy” show that there is a feeling among Brazilians that the pandemic is ending or going away. However, that is not the case. Over the last weekend the country surpassed 100,000 deaths and more than 3 million confirmed cases. The numbers keep going up. 

One possible explanation is a common factor that occurs during prolonged periods of tragedy such as wars, where people “get used” to a tragic day to day scenario that claims many victims. However, Rosana Onocko, a doctor and psychoanalyst, director of the Brazilian Association of Collective Health (Abrasco), points to the fact that the population may be living in a “denial bubble”. 

One of the factors mentioned by the expert is the treatment of the pandemic as something normal  by a “irresponsible and genocidal federal government”. She adds that “we are in one of the countries with the highest number of deaths in the world, all the while, the government never mentions this and instead says we should focus on the number of those who have recovered. 

It’s no surprise that the last thing Jair Bolsonaro has said about covid-19, is the similar to what he has been saying all along, belittling the number of deaths caused by the virus. “We’ll get to 100,000, but life will go on and we’ll get rid of this problem”, the president said  on social media.

The reopening of society at a moment when transmission of the disease is at a high point, especially in the southern central part of Brazil, also gives the false impression that the situation is under control

“What we are hearing from cities and states is very weak, very contradictory. They open up one day and close the following one. Resistance towards establishing limits on behalf of authorities, as well as pandering to economic demands, have turned out to be like shooting yourself in the foot, since the pandemic here is lasting way longer than in places where they adopted more rigid measures. Social safety nets that would enable people to stay home have also not been put in place”, argues Rosana Onocko. 

The context of normalization imposed by the government, and the inherent difficulty in dealing with the frustrations that social isolation entails, create the “magic way out”, the feeling that “nothing will happen to me”, the expert concludes. 

When will the pandemic be over?

Theoretical physics professor Roberto Kraenkel, highlights that there is no way of telling when the pandemic will be over in Brazil. “What we know, in terms of Brazil, is that every week cases will go up and that things are not going well”, says the member of the Covid-19 observatory, a group that unites scientists, researchers and intellectuals from various universities around the country to study the virus. 

Kraenkel alerts us that even in states where there is no exponential growth of the disease, where people are trivializing the notion that “things are under control”, levels of infection are still worrisome. 

The physicist emphasizes that “scientists also want everything to go back to normal”, but that in order for this to happen we need stricter social distancing rules, more testing and a reopening plan that starts only when cases drop, as the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests. 

While we still don’t have effective and responsible policies regarding the pandemic in place, physician Rosana Onocko says that it is important to give families space to grieve, so that people don’t become mere statistics and covid-19 victims are forgotten. 

“It’s very sad when a society doesn’t see what it is losing, because that implies that they don’t value what they have lost. Each and every one of these 100,000 people that died in Brazil were valuable, loved by someone, and contributed to society in one way or another. It is important to note that”, says the doctor.


Edited by: Rodrigo Durão Coelho