Covid-19 Impact Series (III): Worldview on Coronavirus
Meet Individuals from Around the World- United States and Brazil
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage on across the world. Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South America – cases have spread across these continents and the direct and indirect impact of this virus continues to spiral. Every country is different, thus the experiences are never the same. As part of the Covid-19 impact series, we are bringing you a Worldview on Coronavirus. How are people in countries around the world handling the situation? How are we faring? We had discussions with six individuals from every continent. They are people like us, people who are trying to make their way through life in these dire times.
Today we will be introducing Christy from the United States and Ana from Brazil (names changed by the editors), two young women that tell us about life in their countries during the pandemic.
SOGH: Can you describe the situation in your country?
Christy: It is chaotic, what with dealing with the virus and there are the protests around the country too.
Ana: Right now, Brazil is the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. The moment is of a comprehensive deepening of pre-existing social problems and inequalities and, along with the corona crisis, a political crisis as I have never seen before. From the beginning, our president addressed the epidemic as a ‘fantasy’ spread by media, disrespected his own Health Ministry’s recommendations and did not care to wear masks when meeting with supporters all bundled up together, who shouldn’t even have been there in the first place, if social distancing had been taken seriously. He said to the press “So what? What do you expect me to do?” when asked about the 10,000 deaths caused by Covid-19 mark that Brazil had reached that day. He insults our people and ignores the sanitation problem that is essential to understanding the spreading of this virus and other diseases here, by saying that “Brazilians dive in the sewers and nothing happens, they might as well be immune [to Covid-19] already.”
Two health ministers resigned during this pandemic and no replacement has been appointed to take office since the 15th of May. We’ve been seeing the president’s supporters – they are not many, but they are going out to the streets regardless of the epidemic – ask for the Congress and Supreme Court to be closed and protest using racist and authoritarian symbols as the president makes it clear lives are worth nothing to his agenda when, after we surpassed 30,000 deaths due to the epidemic, his comment was, “I regret it, but it’s everyone’s destiny”. One of his ministers said that we are currently undergoing “the biggest human rights violations in Brazil’s history” and that governors and mayors adopting restrictive measures to prevent coronavirus transmissions should go to jail. Unemployment is on the rise and the mental health burden has been considerably heavier too. The minister of the environment called for environmental policy deregulation now that media has its eyes on Covid-19. The government asks students to study from home without addressing the issue of limited internet access. Underreporting of cases and lack of mass testing for Covid-19 is a huge issue. The federal government is also not transparent with the epidemic’s numbers nor shows us any contingency plans. Millions lack access to healthcare and some even pass away at home and a diagnosis never comes. Others find themselves with no other options but to continue working and, as many have mild symptoms, the transmission rates increase.
SOGH: How do you feel about the situation? How are you faring?
Christy: I feel exhausted. Transitioning to online classes mid-semester posed a bit of challenge and I am concerned about the mode of learning come Fall 2020. The climate in United States, especially for black people, is discouraging. Every day I unlock new levels of blackness and how it affects my life.
Ana: After nearly three months of social isolation and having no idea of when this will change, I just feel like I have to live one day at a time. On some days I watch all the news, debate all possible scenarios with my boyfriend, whilst on other days it just feels like a lot, like a ‘tsunami’ of bad news is hitting me and I know this is a shared feeling with other people who are close to me. So sometimes we try and avoid watching the news for that day, for example. Sometimes I try to talk to other people a lot, whereas for some days I am just very quiet, and then it all changes again. Sometimes I try to focus a lot on my family life, cooking and on the academic writing that I have to do too, to shut myself out from this a little bit. Some days I fail to do that, and I cope with chocolate and Netflix. Or therapy on WhatsApp video. I guess after so much time and still a lot to go (that is what it seems like for Brazil, anyways), you just go on and on, on a roller coaster of feelings and constant changes.
SOGH: What measures are being taken by the government in the fight against COVID-19?
Christy: So far, I have adhered to instructions put out by the government on social distancing and staying safe. Apart from the fact that I would not like to be infected by the virus, I also recognize my lack of comprehensive health insurance in a country where healthcare is expensive. For my counterparts who are citizens, the government provided some palliatives to help ease some of the financial impacts of the virus.
Ana: I think when talking about Brazil it’s useful to separate the government spheres: federal, state-levels and the municipalities. The first one, in my opinion, in its joint incompetence and lack of political will and accountability, is largely responsible for the tragic scenario we currently see in the country. In any way, the federal sphere, be it the congress or the presidential team were responsible for, for example, projects that aimed to provide an ‘emergency income’ for low-income families or those depending on informal jobs now that many businesses aren’t working (still, there are issues, such as a lot of people having troubles to access it) and making wearing masks mandatory nationally, although the reinforcing of this policy depends on how each city decides to proceed and the president himself doesn’t usually wear them. As the president refuses to take the pandemic seriously, public health restrictive measures such as starting quarantines and lockdowns were left to governors and mayors and each Brazilian state is living according to a different plan of governance.
São Paulo, where I live, as of now, is where most cases have been reported. It is also known to be the wealthiest state of the country. Field hospitals were opened. Our governor and mayor have adopted the ‘social isolation’ measure, but no lockdown so far, meaning it’s less restrictive, but only essential services are supposed to be working. In both the state and the city of São Paulo, the biggest isolation rates we could get were of 59% of the people staying at home. They have tried to increase this number by anticipating holidays so less people would go to work, they have used publicity, suspended classes and so on, but there’s usually still about half of the population not adhering to social isolation. And all over Brazil states are already planning their ‘re-opening’ of businesses, each with their own rules. Our ability to contain curves and diminish the death toll in each part of the country will be due to local governors and mayors’ choices.
SOGH: Can you describe your personal situation and that of those around you? How are you coping?
Christy: I think in my household everyone is staying as safe as they can but are also affected mentally, especially with having to run errands for friends with Covid-19, trying not to contract the virus while working and staying safe in United States as a black person.
Ana: My personal situation is one of great privilege when looking at Brazil as a whole. Every working person in my household has found stable jobs that can mostly be done from home during the pandemic, with no salary cuts, and we live in a neighborhood where sanitation problems are as good as inexistent, there’s good internet access, infrastructure and our healthcare access possibilities are great in case someone gets infected or has any other health-related problems. So, we have found ways to cope and adapt. Everyone can work/study and attend meetings, classes and even doctor’s appointments from home.
SOGH: What is different about life now?
Christy: For me, not much is different. I have become more of an introvert since I moved to the United States. I am currently staying with family although I am always worried about overstaying my welcome. Hopefully, school resumes and I can go back to school and secure student employment for the upcoming semester.
Ana: Everything! São Paulo is a very lively city and, here, I was always used to a very lively life, in the same rhythm, which involved doing many things each day, going out, meeting with a lot of people, basically moving across the city a lot. So, after 1.5 years abroad, and knowing I’ll leave again in a while, it was very frustrating coming home and not being able to live in my city the way I was used to. However, I got to figure out new ways of living in this already too familiar place. When I still lived here, long before the crisis, we were all caught up in mad routines: I used to spend a lot of time at the university, and then my sister started to do the same, my mom spent a lot of time at work and my dad either at work or traveling for work, and so we hadn’t spent so much time together in forever! So I have been enjoying the possibility of having more time to watch series with my mother and cook nearly all meals with her, having more time to talk about life with my father and sister and generally spend more quality time with all of them, including our dogs. In the beginning I used to joke: “Every day is like we’re having a Sunday family lunch!”, but now I already miss it if one of us isn’t there for a meal for some reason.
Other things are weirdly different and not in a good way. During these pandemic times I’ve had an ankle ligament rupture trying to do exercise alone at home and now I have to do physiotherapy on Zoom. I also found out about a thyroid problem and had to have a whole appointment with the endocrinologist on Skype. It’s all part of being in social isolation, but I really miss ‘old style’ healthcare provision. We’re also told to disinfect anything we buy, so it’s definitely something I won’t miss, having to disinfect a month’s worth of groceries or basically anything we buy that comes into the house. Or the role hand sanitizer has come to play in our lives, I will not miss that either. Same goes for worrying sick whenever relatives or I need to go somewhere considered risky for infection here, like a supermarket for example.
SOGH: What are you doing during this period as a result of the situation?
Christy: I am working on several personal projects, a concept note for an idea and my academic paper.
Ana: Right now, I am mainly working on the master’s thesis I mentioned before, doing ‘distance learning’ physiotherapy (for a lesion I got trying to exercise at home) and taking some language classes online. Apart from that, I’ve just been trying to get some rest, read and enjoy having my family around. But something I’ve also been doing a lot lately is worry. Worrying about the people I love, other Brazilians and the overall country’s situation and about my own health as well takes up a lot of my time too.
SOGH: What are your personal opinions on the situation?
Christy: I question if equality will ever be achieved or reduced to the barest minimum.
Ana: I think the pandemic is a tragedy and it is/was a tragedy for many other countries. However, I think that the size of it is being amplified here with a far-right government completely abandoning its population, and I believe it shows in a very sad way just how much it matters to choose your leaders responsibly and wisely. I also think sometimes about how Brazil and other Latin American countries have very specific demographic and cultural characteristics; regional deep inequalities that make them different from other regions in the world. And although many measures taken looking at the experiences from Europe or China, for example, are being extremely important here, I also think it would’ve been important to use some systems that were already in place in our public health system and strengthen them, to better reach our communities. Still, it’s all very new and complex, so there’s no easy answer and these are unsettled thoughts.
SOGH: What are you looking forward to doing when the peak is over/virus has been contained?
Christy: Not to sound vain, but I need a pedicure and manicure. I feel so confident when I have my nails done and my feet fresh. I also cannot wait to see some of my friends.
Ana: I am really looking forward to seeing my loved ones, my family members with whom I don’t share a house, my boyfriend and my friends. And then just hanging out with them. A lot. I am also looking forward to walking on the streets with no fears. Also being able to visit my grandma in the south of Brazil. And travel.
SOGH: What do you miss doing as a result of COVID-19?
Christy: I miss physical lectures. Seeing other students provided me a form of motivation. I also miss the NBA. I would have been all [excited] about playoffs if everything was normal.
Ana: I miss being with all the dear people I mentioned earlier (so much!!). But I also miss being able to go eat at one of São Paulo’s bakeries and riding buses and subways. And walking amidst thousands of people. I also miss being able to travel.
SOGH: What do you imagine will be different about life/the world when this is over or rather contained?
Christy: I expect creation of a new set of policies across the world. Hopefully, countries have identified gaps and problem areas that need to be addressed.
Ana: These are uneasy opinions as it’s hard to foretell anything at this point. However, I think that sociability will be different as long as there’s no specific treatment/vaccine. So, a lot of people will be wearing masks, not agglomerating too much. But I think after the vaccine comes, things will pretty much go back to be as they were. I just hope that governments and health organizations will establish preparedness strategies and invest heavily in research and health systems to be ready if something similar happens again.
SOGH: What acts of kindness have you experienced or witnessed in these times and what acts of kindness have you yourself shown?
Christy: My friends have helped me out in so many ways – I had to travel to join family in a different state and they drove me to the airport so I didn’t have to go in public transport, they helped me take my stuff to a storage unit, and they provide emotional support when I need it. I sent monetary gifts to a few people back home, helped my friends out with their projects and helped coordinate zoom meetings.
Ana: There are plenty of initiatives happening here to provide donations of food, money, masks, hygiene items, among others for those facing economic hardship, hunger or for vulnerable groups such as indigenous populations or the homeless, which have always existed but also spiked with the Covid-19 crisis, to my understanding. These go from local initiatives to nation-wide ones. Also, on a more personal level, conversations with family, friends or my boyfriend have been very kind on both ends, as everyone is struggling a lot with this situation and it’s more than heart-warming to be able to count on each other during desperate times.
SOGH: What do you fear most during this time?
Christy: I am afraid of being unmotivated and falling into depression.
Ana: Right now, I mostly fear losing someone I love to this disease. I also really, really fear how big this crisis will hit Brazil and us, its people, and how long it’s going to last.
SOGH: How else do you want the government in your country to address the problems caused by COVID-19?
Christy: Well, in my opinion, they are doing the best that they can considering it is a novel virus and it has not really been dealt with before. But I’d say that they don’t look out for the part of the population who are not citizens. Health insurance is so expensive, and they don’t ask how these people treat themselves if they contract the virus. So, I think there is that gap created. This population – international students, visitors on tourist visas that were in US when the virus broke out and had to stay because of travel restrictions – is neglected. We are not always part of the focus group when issues around Covid-19 are discussed, when assessment takes place and when efforts are made to pad the effects of Covid19. These efforts are felt by the citizens and permanent residents. I understand but the gap still exists, one I am quite familiar with as I am one of those affected.
Ana: I would like to see my government start acting as an actual government in this moment of crisis, showing solidarity instead of pure scorn. And then begin following and respecting the WHO’s recommendations, starting to do mass testing and being more transparent with the numbers, building more ICU units, strengthening the public healthcare system so it’s better equipped to respond to the epidemic and actually ensuring restrictive and preventive measures.
SOGH: What do you want to tell people around the world in these times?
Christy: Stay strong, we will get through this.
Ana: Do not vote for fascists. Their discourse is no joke and you’ll be putting people’s lives on the line. Also, stay vigilant to what policymakers are doing to your country’s Public Health. And take care of yourself and others, always.
We would like to thank Christy and Ana for sharing these interesting insights with us and we wish them all the best in this challenging time!
Don’t miss the chance to read about how people in Uganda and Australia are experiencing the pandemic in the upcoming part of our Covid-19 series.
If you have a story to tell, if you want to tell us how you are faring in these times, please do not hesitate to send an email or comment in the comment box below. We always appreciate your feedback and we would love to know how you are.
BY: Avwerosuoghene Onobrakpeya and Fiona Koeltringer