In March 2020, the life we had known until then ceased to exist in Brazil. With the beginning of local transmission of the new coronavirus and the first records of deaths due to the disease, the governments decreed quarantines in their states, closing schools, universities, stores, shopping malls, in addition to paralyzing sports championships and canceling shows and events, all to try to slow the contagion and control the pandemic in the country.
The disease, being unknown by medicine, didn’t have – and still doesn’t – a specific treatment or a vaccine for prevention, therefore what remained to the population was the social isolation, leading to the appearance of the campaign #FicaEmCasa (#StayHome) on social networks. Brazil, however, did not know how to deal with the pandemic, nor did it instruct people in a coherent and effective way.
These seven and a half months of coronavirus in the country were marked by State leaders disobeying sanitary norms, discrediting and disallowing sanitary authorities, in addition to the profoundly negationist stance towards the pandemic, evidenced by the dismissal of health ministers who obeyed the recommendations determined by the World Health Organization. The behavior of a country’s political leaders reflect daily in people’s attitude and, thus, the policies of social isolation, which were no longer rigorous as they should be, were not fully respected by people, who did not recognize their true importance.
In São Paulo, the Brazilian state most affected by the pandemic, for example, the highest registered rate of social isolation was around 60%, when the minimum recommended for contagion control is 70%. The numbers prove that Brazil has not been able to control the pandemic: it is the second country with the highest number of deaths, more than 155,000, and the third in number of cases, more than five million. Brazilians also saw countries like Italy, one of the Europeans most affected by the pandemic, which reached its peak in the first wave when in the South American country the situation was not yet totally worrying, controlling the contagions and resuming its normal activities and routines, with the necessary care. While in Brazil, the problematic situation, besides remaining, worsened, leading the country to record an average of more than 1,000 deaths per day for months.
From August on, the numbers started to drop gradually, after Brazil registered, in July, the highest number of deaths by coronavirus in a single month. The drop in the numbers of deaths, contamination and the rate of occupation of hospital beds is leading the Brazilian states to a gradual reopening, with norms that oblige the spaces to open with reduced public capacity and with respect to social distancing and the use of masks. Today, the daily average of deaths is around 500, although it is a positive statistic when compared to numbers in previous months, it does not mean that the pandemic is over, contrary to what many people think.
What we see in Brazil, with the reopening and resumption of activities, is the deep disrespect to sanitary norms, such as the use of masks. On weekends, images of crowded bars and beaches became common. Some cities have even considered the return of around 20,000 people to some soccer stadiums. In the midst of the reopening and such “return to normality” the question that remains is: “is it safe to leave home?”, especially for those who are still respecting the quarantine and leaving only when necessary and see the people around them going out and living as if nothing was happening.
In fact, since March many things have changed in the scenario of the pandemic in Brazil, especially with respect to social isolation, previously defended by many who today are tired of staying at home and have chosen risk instead of quarantine. The infectologist Gabriela Gehring evaluates that, with the numbers falling and the country reopening, the tendency is that people think that the pandemic is over and that there are no more risks when leaving home, which is wrong. “Although things are getting a little calmer with the reduction in the number of cases, there’s no way to say it’s safe to leave home. Because it’s not. We are still living a pandemic, which has no date to end, and all the care is not enough. Who needs to leave should always use a mask and alcohol gel, it is our only way of prevention”, she says.
She also advocates that people who can stay at home continue to carry out the quarantine, which is still necessary: “Quarantine is still necessary, who can stay at home and, especially groups at risk, must remain in social isolation. It is too early to relax, we are just in a process of improvement. After the mass vaccination, then we can say that it is totally safe to go out on the streets and release the elderly and chronically ill from quarantine”. There is still no prediction of when the Brazilian population will be vaccinated massively against the coronavirus. Speculations have already suggested that vaccination would start in December 2020, others bet in January of next year, but the most realistic ones indicate that the most likely date would be the second half of 2021.
The fact is that there are several vaccines around the world being produced and tested and the effectiveness of any of them that can combat the coronavirus, protecting the world population, is what can end the pandemic for good. Because, as we have seen and are seeing around the world, cases of reinfection are rare, but they do exist, and countries that previously had controlled the transmission of the disease, today are living a second wave and again decreeing measures of social isolation, as the case of several European countries.
Dr. Gehring says that she is optimistic about the vaccine and believes that several safe and effective options will appear, however, she does not bet on a mass vaccination still in the first semester of next year: “We want it to happen as soon as possible, but until a vaccine is approved, produced and distributed to the population it takes time, and I do not think it will happen before the second semester of 2021. We have to see and wait what will happen”. She also highlights, once again, that the vaccine is what will bring tranquility to everyone in Brazil, because she does not rule out the possibility of a second wave. “We are seeing in Europe, a second wave of contagions is happening. I think this can happen here also with the flexibilization.
Despite the theory of group immunity, defended by some to justify the continuous drop in the number of cases in Brazil, I think we can have, indeed, a new increase in the number of contaminated. But I can’t affirm anything, we have to see how the pandemic is behaving, it’s still very new”, she concludes. Finally and once again: the pandemic is not over. Meanwhile, it is necessary that people continue to take care of themselves and avoid crowds so that, finally, we can leave home safely and return to pre-coronavirus normality.
The article above was edited by Thays Avila.
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