Brazil: Coronavirus pandemic reaches dozens of Indigenous groups

A survey finds 446 cases of new coronavirus and 92 deaths among Indigenous groups, mainly in Brazilian Amazon.

    Indigenous people from the Parque das Tribos community mourns at the death of Chief Messias of the Kokama tribe [Michael Dantas/AFP]
    Indigenous people from the Parque das Tribos community mourns at the death of Chief Messias of the Kokama tribe [Michael Dantas/AFP]

    The coronavirus pandemic has hit 38 Indigenous groups in Brazil, raising fears for populations that have a history of being decimated by outside diseases.

    "The virus is reaching indigenous territories across Brazil with frightening speed," the Brazilian Indigenous Peoples' Association (APIB) said in a statement on Friday.

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    An APIB survey found 446 cases of the new coronavirus and 92 deaths among the affected groups, mainly in the Brazilian Amazon.

    The grim news came a day after the Indigenous community of Parque das Tribos, outside the northern city of Manaus, held a funeral for its chief, Messias Kokama, who died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

    Kokama, who was 53, was buried in a closed coffin wrapped in plastic to avoid spreading the virus.

    Brazil has registered nearly 15,000 deaths and 220,000 cases so far, though experts say under-testing means the real figures could be 15 times higher or more.

    Meanwhile, rights group Survival International said the pandemic was also creating an opening for illegal miners and loggers to encroach on Indigenous lands.

    "Countless tribal lands are being invaded, with the backing of a government which wants to completely destroy the country's first peoples and makes no attempt to hide it," said the group.

    It criticised far-right President Jair Bolsonaro for his push to open protected Indigenous lands to farming and mining.

    Amazon basin

    Also on Friday, Colombian President Ivan Duque said Brazil would send more troops to its border with Colombia in the Amazon rainforest to stem soaring COVID-19 infections there.

    The two countries will also share information about the pandemic and seek to coordinate health measures, the president said after ministers held bilateral talks on Friday.

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    A quarantine, meanwhile, entered into force in Colombia's Amazonas department of about 77,000 inhabitants, which has recorded 1,003 coronavirus infections.

    That is the largest number per 100,000 inhabitants in all of Colombia. At least 30 people have died.

    Infections in Amazon border areas in Colombia, Brazil and Peru could amount to more than 20,000, according to broadcaster Caracol.

    Reachable only by air and river, the Amazonas capital, Leticia, depends economically on trade with Brazil and Peru, the borders of which could be crossed without any kind of controls.

    Colombia has now closed the border, the city's mayor, Jorge Mendoza, said.

    Before the negotiations with Brazil, Colombia and Peru had already agreed to create a ministerial committee tasked with launching an action plan, coordinating health measures and exchanging information on treatments in the border area.

    The rapid surge in infections in the impoverished Amazonas prompted the government to put it under quarantine until the end of the month.

    The hospital and clinic in Leticia are reportedly on the verge of collapse, and Amazonas has no intensive care facilities.

    The cemetery in Leticia has no more space and the local authorities are planning to create another one, Caracol reported.

    The novel coronavirus has especially hit Indigenous people, many of whom live in crowded houses in areas with no health facilities and are difficult to reach.

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    SOURCE: News agencies