Brazil using mass graves in Amazon region as coronavirus cases spike


Deaths from the coronavirus outbreak have piled up so fast in the Amazon rainforest’s biggest city that the main cemetery is burying five coffins at a time in collective graves.

Soon, the city may run out of coffins.

Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, was the first in Brazil to run out of intensive care units, but officials warned that several other cities are close behind as the country registered a record 6,276 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday.

Brazil’s Health Ministry reported 449 related deaths in the prior 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 5,466 out of 78,162 confirmed cases.

In Rio de Janeiro, cemeteries have accelerated construction of above-ground vaults to entomb a wave of deceased patients. Undertakers in Manaus even resorted to burying coffins one on top of the other this week, but the city stopped the practice after grieving relatives protested.

Brazilians tend to the grave of a loved one at Parque Taruma cemetery in Manaus. (Bruno Kelly/Reuters)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the gravity of the virus, calling it a “little cold,” came under new criticism for his remarks on the soaring deaths.

“So what? I’m sorry, but what do you want me to do?” Bolsonaro told reporters on Tuesday, saying he could not “work miracles.”

The accelerating death rate in Brazil is the most concerning of all emerging-market countries, Deutsche Bank analysts told clients in a note on Wednesday.

In Manaus, which is accessible only by plane or boat from the rest of Brazil, corpses are accumulating in a refrigerated container improvised as a morgue freezer as they await burial. At the main Taruma cemetery, a new area has been opened where undertakers were digging rows of graves and now just trenches for five coffins at a time.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, left, has seen his justice and health ministers depart this month. In the event that Bolsonaro were to be removed from office, Vice-President Hamilton Mourao, right, would likely take the helm. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

The mayor’s office said the city’s funeral system was collapsing and running out of coffins.

Only two relatives are allowed to attend burials, and sometimes there is nobody to accompany the coffins to the grave. The city is recommending that families cremate their dead.

Pot-banging protests

Bolsonaro’s response to the crisis is one of the reasons most polls have seen his support sag. He fired his health minister two weeks ago and in some parts of the country citizens bang pots out of their windows in the evening in a symbolic protest.

“It’s time to talk. The president is digging his grave,” former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso wrote on Twitter on Friday. “He should resign before he is forced to resign. Save us, in addition to coronavirus, from having a long impeachment process.”

Bolsonaro also saw his justice minister resign last week. Sergio Moro alleged that the president was looking to interfere in police investigations and looking to tap an ally to lead the federal police.

Bolsonaro was forced to withdraw the choice on Wednesday after the country’s top court blocked the pick.

The Supreme Court authorized an investigation into allegations by Bolsonaro’s former justice minister that the president had abused his power by swapping the police chief.

Sons accused of wrongdoing

All three of Bolsonaro’s sons have been accused of wrongdoing.

Carlos Bolsonaro is the subject of a Supreme Court probe looking at his role in disseminating “fake news,” according to newspaper Folha de S.Paulo. His brother, lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, was accused in a congressional investigation of participating in a “fake news” scheme.

Their eldest brother, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, is also being investigated by state prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro over alleged money laundering and misuse of public funds.

All three have denied any wrongdoing.

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