Brazil’s preparations for the Covid-19 pandemic have not filled Cork writer Patrick Holloway with much confidence.
“It’s a bit of a joke to be honest,” he said with a nervous laugh.
From Crosshaven, he runs an English school in Porto Alegre, the capital city of Rio Grande do Sul in South Brazil.
He has one young daughter and another on the way soon.
He has lived in Brazil for eight years.
The writer watched the growing international spread of the disease and bought extra baby supplies from the supermarket.
His wife and mother-in-law thought he was “just being dramatic” at first, but have joined him now at home in self-isolation.
The family has been inside for more than two weeks.
Patrick still pays their childminders and the teaching staff of his school, which is now temporarily closed. #
He finds teaching online classes from home and looking after his family difficult.
“I’m exhausted, it’s hard like,” he said, but is aware of his good fortune.
“Nobody wants to complain,” he said when describing his quarantine discussions with friends.
“We’re not really suffering and we know there are people who are in a lot worse situation.”
Brazil first hit the international headlines when news emerged that criminal gangs in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo were enforcing social distancing measures.
Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro’s very public disagreements with Brazil’s state governors on how to deal with the public health crisis of Covid-19, and a fractious relationship with his own Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, has led to an uneven response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Further north, the prospects of Brazil’s ability to deal with the Coronavirus outbreak seem even less likely to Paul Soden, a farmer based in the countryside outside of Rio de Janeiro.
He is doing well but under no illusion of the severity of the situation. “So far, so good - just waiting for the shit to hit the fan basically,” Paul said.
Originally from Glanmire, he has lived in Brazil for more than 20 years and runs an eco-farm in a community with his wife and young family.
“The thing here is much bigger I believe than they are admitting too,” he said.
“The Covid thing hasn’t really hit here yet; we’re well behind the wave that hit Ireland,” he said.
Paul said that he lives in a very small community of 1,000 people and that when the coronavirus reaches them “it is going to be devastating because there won’t be anyone not affected.”
"Everyone is family."
“I am trying to be as independent as I can, growing more than I need so I can help our neighbours and friends.
Paul is very frustrated with the Brazilian leader's public conduct during the outbreak and describes the President's tendency to belittle public officials and other politicians who raise concerns about the coronavirus as a major problem.
“The President coming out and calling people a bunch of girls doesn’t help,” said Paul.
“The Trump of the tropics,” Fiona Murphy said when discussing the Brazilian leader.
A teacher at the American School of Brasília, and originally from Youghal, she has lived in Brazil for seven years.
She is frustrated at the lack of direction from the national federal government and dismayed by the President’s dismissal of the coronavirus.
He called it a “gripezinha” or “little flu”.
Fiona said that “people are observing social distancing here” but has seen some small local businesses, such as hair salons, remain open despite local state advice.
She said: “I am scared, I have one child at home with me and I am worried for him, my husband too."
Fiona's husband had a heart problem and recently had stents fitted in February.
"If the hospitals get overwhelmed and we have a problem," she said. "I know that will be difficult too.
“I have seen some people wearing personal protection in public. I tried to buy some masks myself but there was none, I couldn’t get any hand gel either."
Fiona teaches her classes online and her 16-year-old son takes his lessons online too.
Her husband, Antony Boadle, is a Reuters correspondent and is also working from home.
Anthony said the ongoing political division surrounding Brazil’s official response to the Covid-19 outbreak is mainly caused by President Bolsonaro.
The leader’s attacks on state governors taking action to contain the spread of the virus are mainly motivated by political self-preservation, he said.
He said that the President knows the economic fallout will be severe in Brazil and he wants to show that he tried to preserve the economy’s normal functioning when he runs for reelection.
"Reality will impose itself."
This position does carry support, however, Anthony said this may not last when the casualties begin to rise.
“Reality will impose itself,” he said.
- This story first appeared in The Irish Examiner.