Gangs Enforce Curfew As Brazil's President Describes Coronavirus As A "Media Fantasy"

Brazilian gangs have imposed curfews on favelas in Rio, such as Rocinha, over fears of the spread of COVID-19. J_UK/ Shutterstock

Katy Pallister 30 Mar 2020, 15:53

A coronavirus curfew of 8pm has been imposed by drug traffickers in one of Rio de Janeiro’s best-known favelas. In the Cidade de Deus (City of God) favela in western Rio, the Red Command gang leaders, who control the favela, have ordered residents to stay at home. The sporadic imposition of curfews such as this in several areas highlights the Brazilian State’s longstanding neglect of some of Brazil’s poorest citizens, reports suggest.

Concerns mounted in the favela after it became the first one in Rio to record a case of COVID-19. The lack of basic sanitation, precarious housing structures, and the densely populated communities means that these areas are at risk of proliferating the virus. In total, Brazil has reported 4,256 cases of COVID-19, and 136 deaths from the disease, at the time of writing.

Amid these growing fears, the Rio newspaper Extra has reported gang members using loudspeaker announcements to threaten residents of Cidade de Deus and circulate information of their curfew. “We will do a curfew because no one is taking it [coronavirus] seriously,” the recorded message reportedly said.

“It’s best to stay at home and chill. The message has been given."

In downtown São Paulo, Brazil, the impact of COVID-19 is also evident. Nelson Antoine/ Shutterstock

Similar measures have been imposed in other favelas around Rio, which are home to around 2 million of the city’s 7 million residents. In Morro dos Prazeres, people have been told by gang members to only walk in groups of two; In Complexo da Maré, traffickers have ordered shops and churches to reduce operating hours; And in the Rocinha, Rio das Pedras, and Muzema favelas a coronavirus curfew of 8pm has also been established.

Speaking to the Guardian, Edmund Ruge, a Rio-based editor for the RioOnWatch news site that covers the favelas, explained what we can glean from these impositions.

“[I]t isn’t the majority of favelas and it’s not coordinated. It is sporadic things around the city,” Ruge told the Guardian. “It’s the exception to the rule – the rule being that civil society is really stepping up right now because they know that the state is not going to do it for them.”

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has faced increasing criticism over his approach to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Last Tuesday in an address to the nation, he called for lockdown measures to be rolled-back. “We must return to normality," he said. "The few states and city halls should abandon their scorched-earth policies.”

President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has put "thousands of lives at risk" with reckless and anti-scientific response to the coronavirus, say top Brazilian politicians. Palácio do Planalto/ Wikimedia Commons

Having previously dismissed the disease as a media "fantasy" and “trick,” Bolsonaro, whilst wearing a protective mask, went on to claim he would “feel nothing” if infected. "In my particular case, with my history as an athlete, if I were infected with the virus, I would have no reason to worry, I would feel nothing, or it would be at most just a little flu," he said.

His “anti-science” attitude has now been called out on a big stage. On Sunday, Brasilia time, two of Bolsonaro’s posts were blocked by Twitter for violating its COVID-19 rules of not spreading misinformation.

Reasons for violation include: “Denial of global or local health authority recommendations to decrease someone’s likelihood of exposure to COVID-19 with the intent to influence people into acting against recommended guidance” and “Description of treatments or protective measures which are not immediately harmful but are known to be ineffective, are not applicable to the COVID-19 context, or are being shared with the intent to mislead others.”

[H/T: The Guardian]

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