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Troy Holmes is terrified at a moment in his life when he should be celebrating.

Nanda, the Adelaide man’s Brazilian wife, is six months pregnant, but the couple has found themselves in the midst of a COVID-19 hotspot around the world.

“We’re scared of everything,” the 43 year-old said, speaking from the city of Porto Alegre in Brazil’s south.

They only venture outside their home for groceries and medical appointments and even then, they don’t feel safe.

“Our daily life consists of this apartment. We are in the apartment 24/7,” he said.

“We’ve been to appointments and we’ve just stood in the middle of the room, so we don’t have to touch any of the chairs,” he said.

Mr Holmes, who moved to Brazil two years ago with his wife, whom he met in Australia, says a major source of their anxiety comes from Brazilians who are not taking the virus seriously.

When he looks down onto the street below he sees many people not wearing masks, and even where precautions are being taken he’s not convinced it’s making much of a difference.

“There’s a little bit of theatre; they take your temperature, but they don’t read the temperature,” he said.

“People are not actively trying to keep themselves safe, or each other.”

Mr Holmes, who has found work as an English teacher in the South American country, can understand some of the reasons why the situation has spiralled out of control.

Troy and Nanda do not leave their home, except to buy food and for medical appointments.
Image Source: ABC

“One-third of the population here live in what Australians would essentially call a slum. They call them favelas here,” he said.

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“There’s no services, there’s no assistance, and very, very poor education available … I’m not surprised it’s blown up to be as it is, and Porto Alegre is not alone here.”

In a sign of just how dire the situation is, Brazil’s health ministry recently advised women not to get pregnant as concerns mounted about the growing number of pregnant women getting sick and dying.

Mr Holmes said he did hear talk of that advice, but he wasn’t sure it wasn’t just another piece of misinformation. In any case, the message came long after his wife fell pregnant.

“We hear rumours constantly. It’s hard to understand what’s true and what’s not at the moment,” he said.

Brazilians scramble to get access to vaccine jabs

After peaking with two days of over 4,000 deaths at the beginning of April, Brazil is now averaging about 2,400 deaths a day.

In the last month alone, over 100,000 people have died.

The delivery of vaccines must now outpace the spread of the virus, but the inoculation effort is sluggish and has slowed in some areas.

In Brazil, more than 13% of the population has received at least one vaccination.

Mr Holmes, who is unsure whether he is qualified for the vaccine, said his Brazilian in-laws got their first dose about a month ago but were turned away when they returned for the second.

“They had to doctor shop and go find it somewhere else. They did find it, but it took them a day’s effort to find,” he said.

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Their experience appears to be part of a wider problem of vaccine distribution.

In addition to a shortage of vaccines in some locations, there are also increasing signs that some people are not showing up to even try to complete the course.

The country’s Health Ministry says 1.5 million people haven’t turned up for their second shot.

Studies have also shown that the vaccine being used in 80 per cent of Brazil’s rollout — China’s Sinovac, also known as Coronavac — is not nearly as effective as those being used in other countries like the US.

Uatuma River to administer the vaccine
Image Source: ABC

Dr Julio Croda, an infectious diseases doctor at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, coordinated a study that found Sinovac was around 50 per cent effective against the P1 variant of the virus, whose spread triggered Brazil’s second wave.

Dr Croda said those who were not getting a second shot of Coronavac were “not safe”.

“Nowadays [you have] close to 11 per cent of the population that get the first dose and less than 5 per cent that get the second shot,” he said.

That means the country is still at “a very low level of vaccination”.

Doctors worry about opening up too soon

Brazil’s health system has recovered somewhat from its precipice, with ICU capability in some states now hovering around 80%, rather than the 90% or higher estimated earlier this year.

Daily death tolls are also decreasing, but Dr. Corda is worried about the country’s reopening, which has seen uncoordinated and intermittent lockdowns and restrictions.

“My worry is you open again all the activities, this increases the transmission … and you can in the next months see a collapse in your health system,” he said.

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A parliamentary inquiry has now been launched into the state and federal response to the pandemic as the country’s chief COVID-19-skeptic, President Jair Bolsonaro, continues to play down the crisis.

Mr Bolsonaro has opposed strict lockdown measures and downplayed the severity of the virus since the beginning. He also failed to strongly endorse masks but has recently supported the vaccine rollout.

The inquiry, which was launched by the President’s political opponents, will look into why the administration backed unproven COVID-19 drugs like hydroxychloroquine, as well as what triggered the dire situation in the Amazonas state at the start of the year, when hospitals ran out of oxygen.

Source: ABC World News

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