Residents of Brazilian city hard-hit by Covid-19 want ‘more humane’ president

By Carlos Meneses

Manaus, Brazil, Sep 13 (EFE).- Speaking about the pandemic is now taboo in the Brazilian Amazon gateway city of Manaus even though the health emergency has subsided.

But the family members of the victims have not forgotten about rightist head of state Jair Bolsonaro’s flippant attitude toward the coranavirus and are urging their fellow countrymen to elect a “more humane” president in October.

Images of desperation in the streets of Manaus, with hundreds of local residents waiting in long lines to obtain oxygen cylinders and mass graves dug in this capital of Amazonas state, drew international attention.

Manaus was the hardest-hit city during the worst of the coronavirus crisis in Brazil, a country whose nearly 700,000 deaths from Covid-19 are second only to the United States worldwide.

The federal Attorney General’s Office says more than 60 people died of asphyxiation in Amazonas state due to a lack of oxygen.

Carla Oliveira lost her father, mother and brother to the coronavirus between Jan. 5 and Feb. 3, 2021.

“My sister and I were left alone,” she told Efe, adding that as recently as a month ago she would wake up screaming in the middle of the night and is still taking antidepressants.

Like many other people in Manaus, she spent days fruitlessly looking all over the city for oxygen cylinders.

Now that the crisis has passed, she said there are individuals – even within her own family – who “don’t like to talk about the subject.”

“People forget very quickly, but I don’t. I know what I went through, I saw the chaos in front of me,” Mayara Bilhante, founder and executive director of the non-governmental organization Parceiros Bilhantes, told Efe.

That non-profit organization collected 1.5 million reais ($300,000) in donations and used the money to buy more than 23,000 liters of oxygen, as well as other medical supplies and equipment to help mitigate the impact the crisis.

Some effects of the health emergency are likely to be felt across multiple generations.

The Manaus-based Sustainable Development Research and Teaching Institute attends to 200 children who were left orphaned by the pandemic, although its director, Glauce Galucio, said financial aid has fallen sharply in recent months.

Galucio spoke to Efe after delivering bags with basic goods to Antonio da Costa, a 69-year-old retiree. The virus claimed the life of his daughter, and now he and his wife care for their four grandchildren, including a toddler aged one year and a half.

Da Costa said it is not easy for that couple to provide breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks on the couple’s income of just $500 a month.

He avoided leveling direct criticism at Bolsonaro, who has denied the seriousness of the coronavirus, cast doubt on the efficacy of the vaccines and urged people not to comply with social-distancing measures, and merely urged the next president to offer more assistance to victims of the pandemic.

But Oliveira, who began to see a light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the support of the Association of Victims and Relatives of Victims of Covid-19 (Avico Brasil), was harshly critical of the rightist president.

“The Bolsonaro government says the number of deaths was inflated to obtain more public funding. That makes me sick,” she said, adding that the president even imitated patients with shortness of breath.

Indignation over Bolsonaro’s response to the pandemic led one female indigenous leader, Vanda Witoto, to throw her hat in the political ring.

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