Now it is Latin America’s turn to face the pain of the COVID-19 storm that has spread west across the globe.
In Brazil, the health service is ill-prepared; in truth it is already overwhelmed.
They can’t fight this virus – instead they are digging thousands upon thousands of graves in the city of Sao Paulo.
The pictures filmed for Sky News by cameraman Eduardo Duwe at the Vila Formosa cemetery, the largest in Latin America, are simply staggering.
Image: More than 13,000 graves are being dug at the site
More than 13,000 graves are being dug. From the air, the enormity of this digging operation is astonishing. Grave after grave stretches as far as the eye can see.
This is a public cemetery, mainly used by the poorest families. In Sao Paulo, the poorest areas are being hit the worst.
Medical workers across Brazil haven’t given up hope, but there is no battle, no real war on the virus, and they are facing defeat.
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The graves are perhaps a symbol of the failure to contain, and the failure to lock down.
In full hazmat gear, the grave diggers and burial teams struggle over the freshly dug earth, while grieving family members follow behind.
Image: Vila Formosa cemetery is mainly used by the poorest families
Image: Only small groups are allowed inside the cemetery
Sky News producer Marcia Reverdosa spent two days at the cemetery documenting what is happening there.
We can’t join her in Brazil as all entry to the country for foreigners is now closed.
She told us what it was like when she entered the gates of Vila Formosa.
“It was a tense and deeply sad atmosphere, but also there was this rush. Everything was at a very fast pace, something you don’t expect to see at a funeral site,” she said.
“Arrival, document checking and then if there was space they would grant the family some minutes to mourn, otherwise the coffin was just taken by a van immediately to the grave.
“No time for a prayer or anything, no time for goodbyes, no chance to see your loved one for one last time.
“Families were standing at the site surrounded by open graves. It was devastating. When it was done, another family would then take their position on the next grave and the process would start again,” Marcia explained.
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Such is the stigma of the disease that many people in Latin America simply refuse to acknowledge that their loved ones died of COVID-19.
Even if the hospitals believe the victims did die of the virus, there is little testing taking place so the families simply don’t acknowledge the official report.
Only small groups of family members are allowed inside the cemetery. Most look in shock.
The graves are separate but the dead are covered over en masse. To all intents and purposes, this is a mass grave.
Across the world, the phenomenon of this virus is always the same: everyone dies alone.
Marcilene Dias da Silva saw her brother enter hospital – that was the last time.
Image: Marcilene dias da Silva says she last saw her brother before he went to hospital
“I can only think of how much pain he went through,” she told us through tears.
“Now he can’t even be buried properly, he had nothing.
“The last time I saw him was when he entered the ICU, and then he never came back. That was the last time I saw him. Just like that.”
They have been digging graves here non-stop for the past two weeks. They are doing about 800 a day. The workers thought they would be done by now but they have been told to keep going.
James Alan Gomes da Silva is a 34-year-old grave digger who has been doing the job for seven years.
Image: James Gomes da Silva has worries about becoming infected
His biggest worry is getting infected because he, like so many, has a family.
He says his team of diggers try to be as careful as possible, always cleaning themselves and looking out for each other.
Not even half the population of Sao Paolo is respecting the lockdown, but the state has the highest infection rate in the country.
Mr da Silva says it feels like people only start to take the virus seriously when it happens to them.
Image: Cemetery workers lower a coffin into a grave
“At the beginning of our shift I take a picture with my whole team and post it online saying ‘stay at home’, because this is not a joke,” he told us.
“Someone very close to me died yesterday. She was from my neighbourhood and she passed away yesterday. She had already lost a relative, so you see, it is not a joke.
“When it is not close to you you can say ‘oh this is just a story people tell, it is not real’, but when it is really close to you, you see how serious it is.”
Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsanaro, is still dismissing this pandemic as light flu.
Asked about the death rate surpassing China, he gave this terse response: “So what? I mourn [the deaths] but what do you want me to do? My name is Messias but I can’t work miracles.”
Image: Flowers are placed on the graves
He can’t work miracles for sure, but by denying the dangers of COVID-19 and actively sabotaging lockdown plans in some of the country’s major cities, he has allowed the virus to spread like wildfire.
He is wrong, of course, and his opinion is irrelevant as they are dying here in huge numbers.
Marcia is exasperated.
“In the past two weeks you can notice more and more people are out in the streets, and it gives a sense of normality which shouldn’t exist yet,” she told us.
“We are reaching our peak here with hospitals about to collapse and cemeteries working double time to keep up with the demand. It is frustrating.”
Source : Sky News