Lieutenant Silva’s face is grim as he watches his firefighters try — and fail — to control one of the thousands of wildfires ravaging Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s biggest tropical wetlands.
“It needs to rain. We’ve got low moisture, intense heat. With that combination, rain is our only hope,” says Silva, even as new flames break out at the spot his team of six firefighters is trying to douse on the grounds of an ecotourism hotel in the northern Pantanal.
Even when the fire looks to be out, embers continue burning underground, feeding on layers of dry leaves that have accumulated amid the region’s worst drought in nearly five decades.
The firefighters advance about 60 meters (yards) into a dense patch of charred scrubland, but the hoses connected to their truck can reach no farther.
One starts using a leaf blower to clear away the dead vegetation, which momentarily extinguishes the flames on the surface.
But the slightest gust of wind is enough to reignite them.
Silva decides to retreat and change tactics: better to create a fire break by soaking the ground around the truck in water.
The firefighters hope that will prevent the flames from reaching the other side, where there is a still intact hill of native vegetation inhabited by jaguars.
The Pantanal sits at the southern edge of the Amazon rainforest, stretching from Brazil into Bolivia and Paraguay.
The region is known for its lush landscapes and biodiversity.
But this year, some 23,500 square kilometers (9,000 square miles) of the wetlands have gone up in smoke — nearly 12 percent of the Pantanal.
Helped by local volunteers, firefighters are racing to control the flames before they destroy the area’s hotels and numerous wooden bridges, essential infrastructure for getting in and out of a region normally covered in water this time of year.
Hotel worker Antonio da Silva is one of the volunteers helping safeguard the bridges, wearing a cowboy hat and face mask.
“I’m from this region, I’ve lived in the Pantanal for 60 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” he says
India overtook Brazil on Monday as the country with the second highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, even as key metro train lines re-opened as part of efforts to boost the South Asian nation’s battered economy.
India has emerged in recent weeks as the new global pandemic hotspot, although cases continue to soar across the globe with reported infections worldwide nearing 27 million and deaths surpassing 880,000.
France, Israel and Australia were among the nations forced in recent days to extend travel restrictions or impose new ones to try and contain fresh surges.
India, home to some of the world’s most densely populated cities, has been reporting the highest single-day rises in the world and on Monday it confirmed a new record of nearly 91,000 new cases.
India’s cases have now risen above 4.2 million, surpassing Brazil’s total and making it the second-highest tally behind the United States’ 6.25 million.
However, with India’s economy imploding following months of travel restrictions, authorities pressed on with risky reignition plans.
The metro in the capital of New Delhi began reopening on Monday after a five-month shutdown and 12 other cities began restarting subway services.
Authorities imposed strict rules on passengers, with masks, social distancing and temperature checks mandatory.
During peak hour in New Delhi on Monday morning, carriages were sparsely filled as people followed guidelines dictating that only alternate seats could be occupied.
For total deaths worldwide, the United States has the most with more than 188,000, followed by Brazil with 126,000. India is next with about 71,000 fatalities.
New European spikes
Britain is battling another spike, with the number of daily cases hitting nearly 3,000 on Sunday, a level not seen since late May, according to health ministry figures.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the latest sufferers were predominantly young people.
“It’s important that people don’t allow this illness to infect their grandparents and to lead to the sort of problems that we saw earlier in the year,” he said.
The British government said it would tighten local restrictions in areas showing sharp rises in cases rather than impose a second national lockdown for fear of its effect on the economy.
In neighbouring France authorities placed seven more regions covering major cities including Lille, Strasbourg and Dijon on high alert Sunday as increases in infections accelerate.
Of the country’s 101 “departments”, 28 are now considered “red zones” where authorities will be able to impose exceptional measures to slow the virus if necessary.
The curbs come after France reported a record of nearly 9,000 daily cases on Friday, In Paris masks are now mandatory in all public spaces.
Lockdowns have also been imposed or extended Israel and Australia in recent days.
Israel decided Sunday to begin “a nightly closure” of 40 cities and towns with the highest infection rates.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “educational institutions” would be closed and gatherings limited from Monday.
“I know these limitations are not easy, but in the current situation, there’s no way to avoid them,” Netanyahu said.
According to data collected by AFP, Israel has risen to fifth in the world for the number of infections per capita, ahead of Brazil and the United States.
In Spain, the government is trying to restart schools even as it records the highest number of new infections on the European continent.
Some Spanish parents are refusing to send their children back to class for the new school year despite the threat of sanctions from authorities.
“You have your whole life to learn, but if you lose your health, that’s it,” said Aroa Miranda, a 37-year-old mother-of-two in the coastal town of Castellon de la Plana.
“Going back to school is being treated like an experiment, we’re like guinea pigs… for my eight-year-old, I will pretend he’s ill so I don’t have to send him to school.”
Brazil’s football federation announced on Wednesday it will pay men and women the same amount for representing the national team, one of the few countries to make such a pledge.
“The CBF has equalled the prize money and allowances between men’s and women’s football, which means the women players will earn the same as the men,” said the federation’s president Rogerio Caboclo.
It means Brazil’s little known female players such as Marta, Formiga and Leticia Santos will receive the same fees and allowances as global superstars such as Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino.
Australia, Norway and New Zealand are amongst the nations to previously decide to pay their men and women internationals the same amount.
In March 2019, the US women’s team, the current world champions, sued their federation alleging discrimination over pay and conditions.
A judge dismissed their case in May this year but the team appealed.
Brazil’s football association CBF said its decision was communicated to the women’s team and their Swedish coach Pia Sundhage in March.
“This is historic. Being a part of this is very special, I’m very grateful,” said Sundhage, who also welcomed the news that for the first time a woman, Duda Luizelli, has been put in charge of coordinating the national women’s team.
Equal pay was first applied back in March when Brazil took part in the invitational Tournoi de France, finishing last out of four sides.
The measure will be applied to the national teams participating in the Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo next year, as well as the next men’s and women’s World Cup tournaments.
“It will be proportionally the same as what FIFA proposes for women, that is to say, there will be no more gender difference in remuneration between men and women,” said Caboclo, the federation president.
The men’s team is the most successful in football having won the World Cup a record five times.
They have also won their continental championship, the Copa America, nine times, most recently on home soil in 2019.
But the women’s team is also amongst the strongest in the game, having reached the World Cup final in 2007 and back-to-back Olympic finals in 2004 and 2008.
The CBF said later in a statement that equal pay was “part of the journey of transformation” towards equality in football, the most popular sport in the country, which has 36 professional clubs.
Last year, the Brazilian professional league also authorized equal prize money for women and men.
However, when it comes to club football, the gap in pay between men and women, not just in Brazil but all over the world, remains huge.
The highest-paid players in the women’s game earn six-figure salaries, while male players such as Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus take home sums more than 100 times greater.
Brazil’s economy, the biggest in Latin America, contracted by a record 9.7 percent in the second quarter of 2020, plunging into recession as coronavirus lockdowns hit home, the official statistics agency said Tuesday.
Brazil has been hit hard by the pandemic, with the second-highest number of infections and deaths worldwide after the United States, and stay-at-home measures to contain the virus have taken a heavy toll.
“GDP is now at the same level as late 2009, at the height of the global financial crisis,” the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) said in a statement.
The contraction was worse than the 9.2 percent average forecast by 49 economists polled by business daily Valor.
However, it was better than the 11.1 percent drop economists were predicting in May.
Analysts say that improvement was largely thanks to the decision by President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration to launch a massive stimulus program that has been paying 600 reals ($110) a month to Brazilians hit hardest by lockdown measures.
Brazil’s economy shrank a revised 2.5 percent in the first quarter, as the impact of the pandemic began to hit, IBGE said.
Since then, Covid-19 has exploded in Brazil: the country has now registered more than 3.9 million infections and 121,000 deaths.
Just over six months after registering its first case of the new coronavirus, Brazil crossed the grim threshold of 120,000 people killed by Covid-19 Saturday, with no end in sight to the crisis.
The country of 212 million people has now registered 120,262 deaths from the virus and 3,846,153 infections, the health ministry said in its daily update.
Brazil is just the second country to surpass a death toll of 120,000 in the pandemic, after the United States, where the number killed is now more than 182,000.
Unlike in Europe and Asia, where the virus hit hard and then subsided, Brazil’s outbreak is advancing at a slow but devastating pace, said Christovam Barcellos, a researcher at public health institute Fiocruz.
“Brazil is unique in the world. Since the start of the pandemic, its curve has been different from other countries’, much slower,” he told AFP.
“It has stabilized now, but at a very dangerous level: nearly 1,000 deaths and 40,000 cases per day…. And Brazil still isn’t past the peak.”
‘Total lack of coordination’
Brazil confirmed its first case of the virus on February 26, a Sao Paulo businessman returning from a trip to Italy. It recorded its first death on March 16.
The pandemic soon turned political in Latin America’s largest country.
President Jair Bolsonaro condemned the “hysteria” around the virus, and attacked governors and mayors who imposed lockdown measures, arguing the economic damage would be worse than the disease itself.
The far-right leader has instead pushed the drug hydroxychloroquine as the solution to the health crisis, despite studies showing it is ineffective against Covid-19.
He again said Saturday the controversial medication had “saved thousands of victims’ lives” in Brazil.
Bolsonaro even took what he called the “right-wing” drug himself when he was diagnosed with the virus in July.
Experts widely agree the lack of a cohesive message from Brazil’s leaders is responsible for the country’s failure to “flatten the curve.”
“It’s terrible. There’s been a total lack of coordination by the federal government, which unfortunately is another characteristic of the pandemic in Brazil,” said Barcellos.
The virus has meanwhile spread from the first demographic it infected — wealthy travelers returning from abroad — to more vulnerable groups and to the interior of the country.
Impoverished residents of overcrowded favelas, or slums, in cities such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have been hit especially hard.
So have indigenous groups in the Amazon rainforest, who have a history of vulnerability to outside diseases.
Bolsonaro popular as ever
Brazil’s economy, the biggest in Latin America, is meanwhile heading for a record recession this year because of the fallout.
The economy ministry estimates GDP contracted by eight to 10 percent in the second quarter of 2020, and economists are predicting a contraction of more than five percent for the year.
But Bolsonaro, paradoxically, is as popular as ever.
The president, who took office in January 2019, received the best approval rating of his term earlier this month, 37 percent, up five points from June, according to leading polling firm Datafolha.
It found he was performing particularly well among poor Brazilians who have been receiving monthly stimulus payments of 600 reals (about $110) to offset the economic pain of the pandemic.
The former army captain had an approval rating of 42 percent among recipients of the temporary stimulus payments.
The poll also found 47 percent of Brazilians do not blame Bolsonaro for the country’s Covid-19 death toll, while just 11 percent saw him as the “main culprit.”
Other recent polls have also found the man dubbed the “Tropical Trump” has rebounding popularity and a strong chance at re-election in 2022.
“Bolsonaro is a phenomenon. He’s a political force to be reckoned with,” said political analyst Michael Mohallem of the Getulio Vargas Foundation.
Still, he added, “it’s shocking the way he has handled this. It’s not just his denialism…. He has often crossed the line of disrespecting victims.”
Meanwhile, “the number of deaths is scandalously high,” he said. “And I think someday he’ll have to pay the price.”
Brazil’s High Court of Justice removed Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel from office Friday, as police raided his official residence in a probe into accusations he stole emergency funds to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The raids also targeted the far-right governor’s wife and inner circle. Among those arrested was Pastor Everaldo, an evangelical preacher and leader of Witzel’s Christian Social Party (PSC).
Helicopters circled over the stately governor’s residence, Laranjeiras Palace, starting at dawn as federal police executed a sweeping series of search and seizure orders and arrest warrants.
The court ruling suspends Witzel, 52, from office for at least 180 days as authorities investigate claims he took a reported 274.2 million reals ($50 million) in kickbacks.
“This criminal organization acted and continues acting to embezzle and launder funds in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, sacrificing the health and even lives of millions of people,” Justice Benedito Goncalves wrote in his ruling.
Prosecutors say Witzel, an erstwhile ally of President Jair Bolsonaro, set up a slush fund for bribes as soon as he took office in January 2019.
The investigation is mainly focused on allegations his administration stole emergency funds for field hospitals, ventilators and medicine to fight the new coronavirus.
“I’m being politically massacred because there are powerful interests who don’t want me governing this state,” Witzel said in a televised address from his official residence.
“The president has made extremely serious but frivolous accusations against me because he thinks I’m going to be a presidential candidate” in Brazil’s 2022 elections.
Rio is second only to Sao Paulo in infections and deaths from the virus in Brazil, which is in turn the country hit second-hardest in the world, after the United States, with nearly 3.8 million cases and 120,000 people dead.
Allegations of massive corruption in Rio have swirled since the start of the pandemic.
Of the seven field hospitals the state contracted to respond to the health crisis, only two actually opened.
Witzel was already facing impeachment in the state legislature over the accusations.
Witzel helped Bolsonaro win an election in 2018, but has since clashed with him repeatedly, including over the governor’s insistence on imposing coronavirus lockdown measures against the president’s wishes.
Including Witzel, five of Rio de Janeiro’s past six governors have now been jailed or implicated in crimes.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s eldest son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, said Tuesday he has tested positive for the new coronavirus but was asymptomatic.
The 39-year-old senator’s office said in a statement he was “feeling fine,” isolating at home and taking the anti-malaria drug chloroquine, which his father has aggressively pushed as a treatment for COVID-19 despite studies finding it is ineffective against the virus.
Known for his staunch support of his father, the younger Bolsonaro is under investigation for an alleged embezzlement scheme when he was a state lawmaker for Rio de Janeiro.
He is the fourth member of the presidential family to test positive for the virus.
Bolsonaro himself, 65, caught it last month, forcing the far-right leader, a fierce critic of lockdown measures against the virus, into quarantine for three weeks.
First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro, 38, tested positive days later. The president’s fourth son, 22-year-old Jair Renan, tested positive last week.
The virus, which Bolsonaro has compared to a “little flu,” has infected more than 3.6 million people and killed more than 115,000 in Brazil, the second-highest numbers in the world, after the United States.
Former Brazil star Ronaldinho was released Monday by a Paraguayan judge after five months in detention over a forged passport.
Judge Gustavo Amarilla also released Ronaldinho’s brother Roberto de Assis Moreira, who also had been held for a month in jail and another four months under house arrest in a hotel in Paraguay’s capital, Asuncion, for the same charge.
The 40-year-old former World Cup winner “is free to travel to whatever country in the world he wants but he must inform us if he changes his permanent residence” for a period of one year, the judge said.
“He has no restrictions except for the fulfilment of reparations for damage to society.”
Dressed in jeans, a black beret and black shirt, Ronaldinho accepted the terms of his release, which include payment of $90,000 damages. His brother, who is also Ronaldinho’s business manager, must pay $110,000.
The pair are also expected to appear before a judge in Brazil every three months — Ronaldinho for a year and his brother for two.
Amarilla accepted a recommendation by four prosecutors to avoid the need for an oral trial.
“There is no indication that he has any personal characteristics or criminal behaviour that … would put society at risk,” the prosecutor said prior to Monday’s trial.
Prosecutors did not believe Ronaldinho took part in the plan to manufacture the fake Paraguayan passports but believed de Assis Moreira was aware that the passports were false.
The brothers arrived in Paraguay on March 4 without any issues, with Ronaldinho, the 2005 Ballon d’Or winner, due to take part in an event in support of disadvantaged children.
However, two days later, the pair were taken into police custody when investigators raided their hotel following the discovery they had fake documents.
After being held in a police station in Asuncion, where Ronaldinho celebrated his 40th birthday on March 21, the two men had been under house arrest for more than four months in a luxury hotel in the capital, on bail of $1.6 million.
The investigation has since expanded into a case of possible money laundering.
Some 18 people have already been arrested in connection with the case, most of them immigration officials or police officers.
Ronaldinho, considered one of the greatest footballers of all time, was crucial in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup win.
He played for European giants such as Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain during a hugely successful 10-year stint in Europe.
He won the Champions League and two La Liga titles with Braca and Serie A with Milan.
After returning home to Brazil he won the Copa Libertadores — South America’s equivalent of the Champions League — with Atletico Mineiro.
After six months under arrest in Paraguay, former Brazil football star Ronaldinho was set for a hearing on Monday on charges of travelling with false documents, according to judicial sources.
Judge Gustavo Amarilla is due to start the hearing in Asuncion at 14:00 local time (1800 GMT). Ronaldinho’s brother Roberto has also been charged.
The public prosecutor’s office has recommended Ronaldinho pay a $90,000 fine for “damage to society” and is freed to return to Brazil where the former Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain player would also be expected to appear before a judge every three months for a year.
“There is no indication that he has any personal characteristics or criminal behaviour that…would put society at risk,” the prosecutor said.
Prosecutors have recommended that Roberto pay a $110,000 fine and appear before a judge every three months for two years.
Prosecutors do not believe Ronaldinho took part in the plan to manufacture the fake Paraguayan passports. They do think Roberto was aware that the passports were false.
Ronaldinho and Roberto, in Paraguay to promote a book, were arrested on March 6.
After being held in a police station in Asuncion, where the 2005 Ballon d’Or celebrated his 40th birthday on March 21, the two men have been under house arrest for almost five months in a luxury hotel in the capital, on bail of $1.6 million.
Some 18 people have already been arrested in connection with the case, most of them immigration officials or police officers.
Brazil on Saturday surpassed 100,000 coronavirus deaths and three million cases of infection, crossing the grim milestone after President Jair Bolsonaro said he had a “clear conscience” on his response to the outbreak.
With 100,477 fatalities and 3,012,412 confirmed cases, the South American nation of 212 million people is the second hardest-hit country in the global pandemic, after the United States.
The health ministry reported 905 new deaths in the past 24 hours, as well as 49,970 fresh cases.
But the official figures are most likely an undercount, with experts estimating that the total number of infections could be up to six times higher due to insufficient testing.
Brazil has seen 478 deaths per million people, a figure roughly equivalent to that of the United States (487), but lower than that of Spain (609) or Italy (583).
Senate speaker Davi Alcolumbre announced four days of mourning in Congress to pay tribute to the country’s 100,000-plus virus victims.
The coronavirus outbreak in Brazil is showing no sign of slowing as it enters its sixth month.
The country’s first confirmed COVID-19 case was identified in Sao Paulo on February 26, with the first death on March 12, also in the city.
Brazil marked 50,000 deaths a hundred days later, but then doubled that total in just half the time.
Infections have accelerated in recent weeks in the countryside as well as inland regions and areas where the virus was late arriving, particularly the country’s south and center-west.
In southeastern states such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, hardest-hit by the virus in absolute numbers, the situation has stabilized, while the virus’ presence has declined in northern regions after reaching catastrophic levels in April and May.
– ‘Arrogance’ –
At Copacabana beach in Rio, activists from the NGO Rio de Paz released 1,000 red balloons Saturday while standing between 100 black crosses stuck in the sand, in a tribute to Brazilians who have died of coronavirus.
Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Bolsonaro’s leftist nemesis, on Twitter denounced “the arrogance of a president who has chosen to describe this cruel virus as a little flu, defying science and even death, and who bears in his soul the responsibility for all the lives lost.”
The contagion has cast a harsh light on Brazil’s inequalities, with the virus wreaking particular havoc on the country’s favelas and hitting black populations especially hard.
The country’s indigenous Amazon populations have also been hard hit, with one of Brazil’s leading chiefs, 71-year-old Aritana Yawalapiti, dying Wednesday of respiratory complications caused by COVID-19.
Bolsonaro’s government, which has been criticized for managing the epidemic in a chaotic fashion, is on its third health minister since the virus reached the country.
The right-wing leader, who tested positive for the virus last month but has since recovered, said Thursday he had “a clear conscience” and had done “everything possible to save lives.”
Bolsonaro also called the governors of states that took containment measures which he opposed for economic reasons “dictators.”
Brazil resumed its national football championship on Saturday, three months behind schedule.
In Brazil, health care workers are on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic in more ways than one, treating patients but also volunteering to test some of the most promising experimental vaccines.
Brazil is the country with the second-highest number of infections and deaths in the pandemic, after the United States, and the virus is still spreading quickly here.
That is bad news in every way but one: it makes the South American country an ideal testing ground for potential vaccines against the virus.
The job of guinea pig falls to medical staff who work in facilities treating patients infected by the virus, because they are the most likely to come into contact with it, enabling researchers to run a controlled experiment to see how well it works.
“I want to contribute, and this is my contribution — through science,” said pediatrician Monica Levi, one of 5,000 volunteers in Brazil helping test one of the most promising vaccines so far, developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
Levi, 53, works at the Specialized Clinic for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases and Immunizations (Cedipi) in Sao Paulo, the epicenter of the outbreak in Brazil, where more than 2.5 million people have been infected so far, with more than 90,000 deaths.
“Vaccination is my cause. So I have to act on my beliefs,” she told AFP.
Last week, Brazil also became the first country carrying out Phase 3 trials of Chinese vaccine CoronaVac, developed by pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech.
Phase 3 clinical trials involve large-scale testing on humans, the last step before vaccines seek regulatory approval.
Medical workers play the starring role in testing that vaccine, too.
“They pick health care professionals because we are constantly at risk,” Levi said.
Volunteers must be between 18 and 55 years old, work in a patient care role and have no underlying medical conditions.
Half the volunteers in the Oxford trial are receiving the vaccine and the other half a placebo.
But they will only know which a year from now.
Levi got her shot on July 21, and had a headache and chills the first day, she said.
“But I don’t even know if they gave me the vaccine or the placebo,” she added.
While she waits to find out — and to learn whether the vaccine is the exit from the pandemic that the whole world is hoping for — she goes to regular check-ups where researchers monitor her health.
Scientists worldwide are racing to develop and test a vaccine for the virus. There are more than 150 projects so far.
But there are no guarantees in the high-stakes race.
Brazil has a deal to make up to 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine if it proves effective.
But if it doesn’t, said Levi, “it will all go in the garbage.”