Brazil: Covid-19 pandemic in the Amazon, some reflections

By Gleice Oliveira

The tragic situation we live in Manaus is the result of a policy built for years and with a tremendous aggravation of that process in the most recent period of our history due to the neoliberal policy implemented by Bolsonaro, doormat of capital, such as the scrapping of SUS (Unified Health System) and other public services, the successive cuts in various sectors, with greater depth in Health, Education, Science and Technology. This has an even more accelerated dynamic with the pandemic.

The fact that we are a continental state is symbolic. With 62 municipalities, ONLY in the city of Manaus, being the capital, are there Intensive Care Units-ITU. Added to this is the growing impoverishment of the working class in general, but with even more aggravating elements for the miserable sectors of the periphery of the cities, with high unemployment rates, precarious labor of huge population contingents that survive on informal and irregular activities, unprotected from any labor legislation. We should also add the lack of urbanization and the absence of a housing policy, which affects 53% of the population of Manaus living in precarious housing conditions, what the IBGE calls subnormal agglomerations, palafitos, favelas, invasions, etc. This fact aggravates the issue of pollution and the death of the streams that cut through the Amazonian cities. It also registers the problem of inequality in the access to sanitary services and the existence of a discarded and expensive public transportation system.

Corroborating this picture, from the economic point of view, the state is supported almost exclusively by the Industrial Pole of Manaus – PIM, which continues to exist because its companies receive more than significant exemptions, but pay miserable salaries, do not even invest in asphalting the streets of the Industrial District where they are installed and will leave Manaus at any time as the company Soni did recently, aggravating the already high unemployment rate in the city.[1].

Corruption has been deeply rooted at all levels of government for decades, and the servility and vassalage to the business class and the bourgeoisie in general is shameful and outrageous. There are many elements that add up forming a perfect breeding ground for the proliferation of Covid-19.

“Research by the Federal University of Amazonas and Fiocruz-Amazon points out that Manaus is in fact living a “SYNDEMIA”, that is, when the social and economic context worsens and causes a situation out of control. “Data point to the fact that Covid-19 in Manaus is related to social inequality.”[2]

The pandemic arrived in Manaus, as in the rest of the country, and found a fertile ground that, allied with the absence of a real policy of confrontation, took long strides towards the municipalities in the interior of the state, even reaching the indigenous territories. It is good that many peoples have been isolated, but there are records of contamination even by military and employees of FUNAI itself who were transferred to indigenous areas without testing or protective measures and resulted in contagions, disease and deaths, as was the case of the Kanamary people of Vale do Javary, but many others suffered various casualties due to a historical lack of immunity and a repeated process of genocide that was never definitively stopped. Fortunately, we have news that the Ashaninka[3] people who were isolated have no records of being infected or dead.

The policy adopted by Bolsonaro at the national level, and implemented in depth by Wilson Lima governor of Amazonas and Arthur Neto intendant of Manaus until the end of the year and since the beginning of January by David Almeida, was to seek to convince and even encourage people to be contaminated so that they would “naturally” form collective immunity, which never happened because immunity lasts only 3 to 5 months, a period in which the person can be contaminated by a virus of another lineage and after the short period of immunity can be reinfected with the same type of virus. In other words, they invested in a flawed theory, which consciously ignored the large number of lives lost and also of sequelae. In short, a criminal policy that has caused more than 303,586 cases and 10,359 deaths that could and should have been avoided. Data as of 19.02.2021.

It is striking that the five highest death rates are recorded precisely in countries whose leaders, from the first moment of the pandemic, have adopted NEGATIONIST positions: Bolsonaro and Wilson in Brazil and Amazonas, Mexico with Lopes Obrador, India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom.

In Manaus, the virus found favorable conditions for its growth and mutation in an accelerated dynamic, the denial of data contributed and continues to contribute greatly to it, along with the disregard of warnings and scientific recommendations. Starting with the president of the republic himself, who disregarded the measures recommended by the WHO including mass testing, social isolation, use of masks and hygiene.

During the first wave, with many complaints and pressure from unions, social and popular movements, two field hospitals were created, one in the state and one in the municipality, but the profit motive and greed of the elites together with their vassals in the government, did not allow investment in educational campaigns or testing and advanced in public resources, buying false and overpriced equipment. There was no effective isolation and the result was overwhelming, with overcrowded hospitals, queues in the cemeteries to bury the dead to the point that the mayor ordered massive burials, which generated a wave of complaints and denunciations from the population and the national and international press until Arthur Neto, mayor at the time, reversed his decision.

The rate of contaminated, hospitalized and dead people has stabilized, but it is very high. When this happened, in September/2020, the first measure of Governor Wilson Lima was to decree the return of face-to-face work in the private network and in the state public schools, which represented a debacle in the already quite fragile social isolation, collapsing public hospitals. That is when the second wave begins to build. The government received a torrent of criticism and demands from the union movement and also from parents’ organizations, but with public opinion divided, the greatest gain was that the teachers got tested. Not even the rest of the education workers and students were included in this procedure. The results of the tests were increasingly frightening as more and more teachers published their positive tests and also the names of colleagues who were ill and dying.

The deactivation of the field hospitals between September and October was done to convince the population and the media that the pandemic was under control, although scientists pointed in another direction.

Scientists such as Lucas Ferrante, biologist and doctoral researcher at INPA, Jesem Orellana, epidemiologist at FIOCRUZ/Amazon and his teams, repeatedly warned about the imminent collapse of the health system and the onset of a second wave, as well as the need to adopt measures for damage reduction, but they were not only rejected, but a campaign of disqualification and threats was orchestrated.[6]

We are currently in the midst of the second wave, which manifested itself more clearly after the year-end vacations and has alarming rates in both the number of infected persons and the number of deaths. I draw attention to the fact that the government does not register the after-effects, which is a terrible mistake, because many people are left with serious after-effects for a long time, without assistance, unable to work and suffering deprivation. The entire hospital network, private and public, is collapsed and there is the aggravating factor of not having oxygen. Ambulances are lined up in front of the hospitals unable to admit patients and unable to attend to others. Desperate people from the municipalities of the state find a way to move to Manaus and wait for vacancies at the hospital doors, where we even have records of deaths. When they get a vacancy for the admission of family members they are left themselves without lodging and food. Many people are in their homes and die there without assistance or oxygen.

In only 7 days, the demand for oxygen multiplied by 11[7], which boosted the crisis in hospitals, especially those that specifically serve patients with Covid-19. This situation makes us export patients to other states such as Piauí, Maranhão, São Paulo, Palmas, Paraná, and also to the Federal District.

In addition, it should be noted that Pazuello, the minister of Health was duly notified in advance (in December 2020) that there would be lack of oxygen and did not adopt the necessary and urgent measures to avoid the lack of oxygen, so many people in hospitals, ambulances and in their homes died of asphyxia. On the days when oxygen deprivation was most severe, entire hospital wards were reported to have died of asphyxiation.

This situation was initially experienced in the capital, with the registration of absurd rates of 225 burials in a single day, a fact that was also repeated in other municipalities as is the case of Coari where 7 people died on the same day, 6 in Itacoatiara on the same day, some of the same family, and all teachers. We live in a chaotic situation also in Parintins, Manacapuru, São Gabriel da Cachoeira and a long list that now also includes municipalities of Pará. In other words, a real attack against public health and against the population. It should be noted that there is a large number of underreporting, misdiagnoses in death certificates and overnight additions. Example: On 31.01 we had 225 burials, the average in Manaus in non-pandemic conditions is 30 burials. In the G1 news it was reported that the dead with Covid were 59. From 225 we knocked down 30 and 59, and we are left with 136 that will have different diagnoses, but the vast majority is by Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Well, it’s too obvious that something very serious is going on for so many people to die of SAR right at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic and not before.

I recommend watching Jessen Orellana’s interview where he makes the connection between the situation experienced in Manaus and the hasty return of the face-to-face work in the state education network in Manaus.[8] I am not sure if this is the case or not.

The records of the Health Surveillance Foundation-FVS are the only ones, and scientists often point out errors and gaps. [9]

The left manauarae is expanding and comes from Amazon, in my opinion, from successive electoral defeats, it has a party, union and popular movement with very bureaucratized and sectarian traces speaking very generically, obviously there are exceptions. Therefore, the construction of a broad front is an extremely exhausting task, but one in which we continue to invest time and energy.

A few weeks ago we achieved the great feat of organizing the Cabana Front in Defense of Life to try to respond in a unified way to the attacks made by the government during the pandemic. We held important political discussions with key leaders and collectively developed an emergency program. We voted for two central slogans that work together: Vaccine Now, which evolved into Vaccination for All and Basic Income Now.[10] The Cabana Front already has two central slogans: Vaccine Now and Basic Income Now.

The Cabana Front already has many entities and their representatives (parties, centrals, entities of the union and popular movement, religious organizations), it moves a little slowly in the face of the objective needs, but it has advanced and among the various actions we carried out a concentration on the 24th and live transmissions every week with a really significant participation if we consider the history of this type of actions in the manauara left.

Faced with the worsening of the pandemic we have a large number of people in an emergency situation due to the collapse of the health system and the hospital network with the absence of clinical and ICU beds, lack of oxygen, medicines (yes, we have to face the problem of mass distribution of drugs that are not effective in the treatment of Covid as Chloroquine, Hydrochloroquine and Ivermectin) and even food. It was then proposed to create a working group dedicated to collect funds almost always donated by the unions, mainly teachers’ unions, and to help people in the most critical situations. But, as the decisions have been consensual and there was no consensus, we created the Popular Committee for Life that has received contributions from the unions, mainly from the Education Workers. The implementation of this Committee had a great participation, several working groups were formed and everything is very creative and interesting.[11].

From this Committee we gathered the teachers who had already been collecting data on the dead of the sector and we began to build the Amazonian Education Workers Memorial that catalogs the fallen of the entire education sector and intends to build a physical monument as well as a documentary. The launching took place on 13.02.2021 and sensitized and moved the teachers who expressed themselves with many messages. [12]

The workers of the state and municipal public system brought together different collectives, organized forces within the sector and formed a Front to act in unity of action.[13]

At the same time, participate in the activities in the National Front against the Privatization of Health, of the Forum of Entities that we organized to defend public services against the government’s Administrative Reform, we also have a campaign group Fora Bolsonaro.

It is an urgent need to pressure the government to receive and meet with the groups of scientists, because they already have the results of studies and research that demonstrate the imperative need to have a real social isolation with at least 80 to 90% of the activities stopped that is for more than 20 days and that necessarily has to be accompanied by the return of emergency aid, vaccination and tests on a massive scale, and ensure that there is no return of school activities. We also want to form an independent body from the government to supervise the vaccination process in order to avoid fura-filas and also the theft of vaccines and control the distribution of oxygen. In other words, we need social control. I recommend paying special attention to the accompanying studies by Lucas Ferrante and Jesem Orellana.[14]

It is worth noting that the Manaus City Council voted on 26.01 an emergency aid of a measly 200 reais. But, according to information from the Municipal Secretariat of Women, Social Assistance and Citizenship – SEMASC, in Manaus there are 58,890 people living in poverty and 99,633 in extreme poverty. Even with this information, the city council approved the amount of 200 for only 40,000 people. A day or two later, Governor Wilson Lima reported the approval of an emergency aid from the State in the amount of 600 reais, but in reality it is only 600 divided in 3 parts.

Now, if  there are 157,452 families characterized as poor or extremely poor in Manaus, the State of Amazonas would also need much more than 157,000 subsidies to cover the entire vulnerable population. The Wilson Lima Government[15] reports that it will pay R$200 for 100,000 families for three months. Consider for example families in extreme poverty or poverty in the State. He says it will be paid by card and not cash and will be home delivered.

In short, we need vaccines, oxygen and income to survive and we are already campaigning against going back to face-to-face work. It is not enough to position ourselves against face-to-face classes, because this excludes other education workers who also put themselves at risk. We should position ourselves as Education: against the return of face-to-face work or something of the sort.





[7] Jesen Orellana interview –


[9] Portal da

[10] Programa Emergencial da FRENTE CABANA EM DEFESA DA VIDA




[14] Necessidade de lockdown e vacinação abrangente em Manaus para contenção da pandemia da Covid-19 – Lucas Ferrante1,*, Wilhelm Alexander Steinmetz2, Alexandre Celestino Leite Almeida3, Jeremias Leão2, Unaí Tupinambás4, Ruth Camargo Vassão5, Philip Martin Fearnside5, Luiz Henrique Duczmal4: e ALERTA EPIDEMIOLÓGICO – Manaus permanentemente ameaçada – Especial vacinação em massa -17.02.2021 – Jesem Orellana