Brazil strains at quarantine as virus cases pass 5 million

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A man dances during a street performance by the Brazilian band Atitude Nossa as the restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic are eased in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. Since the beginning of October, live shows are now permitted in Rio de Janeiro. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

RIO DE JANEIRO – Dozens of people converged on the cobblestone streets of downtown Rio de Janeiro for its traditional Pedra do Sal samba party — the first since the pandemic began — and it seemed Brazil was returning to normal.

Among those dancing Monday were Luana Jatobá and two friends, all of whom overcame COVID-19. As a nurse technician caring for coronavirus patients, she knows better than most that occupancy rates at Rio's intensive-care units have surged as the city’s seven-day average number of cases reaches its highest level since June.

But, she said, everyone is desperate for a respite from the gloom.

“We take care of the people who are sick with COVID, but something that isn’t discussed is that there’s a very serious disease all over the world, which is depression,” said Jatobá. “After confinement, this samba circle is really to rescue those who felt downbeat and were oppressed. It’s not just the virus that kills.”

Brazilians, like many across the world, are burned out on quarantine. The somewhat slower pace of COVID-19's spread, combined with less media coverage after it moved beyond Brazil's two biggest cities, has helped people put the disease out of mind. But it continues to rip through Latin America’s largest country, and mayors — many of whom aren’t keen to keep restrictions in place ahead of November elections — are reopening their cities.

And experts are warning of a possible second wave.

At its height, Brazil was registering more than 45,000 cases and 1,000 deaths per day. Those totals took the shape of a months-long plateau, unlike most other countries whose viral curves had defined peaks. While Brazil’s figures have fallen to about 27,000 cases and 700 deaths daily — significant improvement, clearly — they're still nothing to sneeze at.

Brazil surpassed 5 million confirmed cases on Wednesday night and is verging on 150,000 dead, the second-most in the world, according to the tally from Johns Hopkins University.