Brazil's indigenous people face a possible 'genocide' as their coronavirus death rate soars even higher than the rest of the hard-hit country

05/25/2020 | Business Insider USA | Sinéad Baker
Brazil coronavirus

The death rate among Brazil's indigenous people has soared, reaching 12.6% compared to 6.5% in the rest of the country, a monitoring group reported.

Brazil's indigenous people face a possible "genocide" as their death rate from the coronavirus soars even higher than the rest of the country, which has become one of the world's worst-hit.

The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), which is tracking the spread of the coronavirus through the country's indigenous groups, has recorded 125 deaths out of the 980 confirmed coronavirus cases in those communities meaning a death rate of 12.6%.

That's significantly higher than the overall national rate, which is at 6.5%, CNN reported .

Brazil coronavirus

The APIB's figures include indigenous people who have moved into towns and cities, while the country's Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health only records people who live in traditional villages and has recorded 695 cases and 34 deaths, CNN reported .

The death rate has prompted fears for the groups living throughout Brazil, and comes as Brazil saw a new spike and saw more than 1,000 deaths a day for the first time on May 19. The country now has mass graves for virus victims .

According to CNN, more than 60 indigenous communities across Brazil have confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Sebastio Salgado, a Brazilian activist and photographer, told CNN: "The indigenous people in the Amazon don't have the antibodies for the diseases that come from outside of the rainforest.

"There is a huge danger that the coronavirus could come inside indigenous territory and become a real genocide."

A collective burial of people that have passed away due to the coronavirus disease (COVID 19), is seen at the Parque Taruma cemetery in Manaus, Brazil April 23, 2020..JPG

Many of these groups are in remote parts of the country, like in the Amazon region, which means people can only get to a hospital if they can travel by boat or plane.

Dinaman Tuxa, APIB's executive coordinator, told CNN that "the coronavirus has taken advantage of years of public neglect."

"Our communities are often in remote, inhospitable regions without access or infrastructure," Tuxa added.

Tuxa, who is a member of theTuxa people in the north east of the country, said his community of 1,400 is yet to record any virus cases but doesn't know if that can continue.

There are no hospitals and the nearest hospital is a four-and-a-half drive away.

Brazil coronavirus

The community has turned to strict isolation to try and keep the virus away, seeing this as their only possible strategy.

"In the face of the pandemic we haven't had many choices," he said.

"We have completely isolated ourselves. We set up barriers. No one is allowed in and we try to keep anyone from going out."

A global coalition of actors, thinkers, celebrities, and artists demanded on May 1 that Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's president, take immediate action to protect such groups.

"Five centuries ago, these ethnic groups were decimated by diseases brought by European colonizers," the letter said . "Now, with this new scourge spreading rapidly across Brazil [they] may disappear completely since they have no means of combating COVID-19."

Brazil now has more than 365,000 coronavirus cases and more than 22,000 deaths. Its cases have risen to become the second-highest in the world, behind only the US.

Bolsonaro has downplayed the threat of the virus, spread misinformation about it, and claimed that Brazilian people are immune .

jair bolsonaro

When asked about the 474 deaths that took place on April 28, he replied: "So what?" The country's health minister was also fired in April after he openly disagreed with Bolsonaro and called for social distancing measures.

The country's health system is now overwhelmed, and bodies have been pictured on the streets .

Bolsonaro, a far-right politician, was branded a "killer" by protesters as he ate a hot dog on the street on Saturday as others shouted that he was a hero.

Bolsonaro's policies were damaging to indigenous groups even before the pandemic. During his election campaign, he pledged to build a highway through the Amazon rainforest and power plants within it .

Amazon fire

He has sought to reduce environmental protections and reallocate land and resources that were pledged to indigenous tribes . Experts believe his policies contributed to the devastating Amazon rainforest fires in 2019 .

The US announced on Sunday that it is restricting travel from Brazil from Thursday evening as its cases rise, though its recorded cases are currently far below those recorded in the US: 363,000 compared to 1.64 million.

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