Amazon city resorts to mass graves as Brazil COVID-19 deaths soar

MANAUS, Brazil (Reuters) – Deaths from the coronavirus outbreak have piled up so fast in the Amazon rainforest’s biggest city that the main cemetery is burying five coffins at a time in collective graves.

FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker wearing protective gear transports the body of a person to a refrigerated truck during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the Evandro Freire hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Soon, the city may run out of coffins.

Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, was the first in Brazil to run out of intensive care units, but officials warned that several other cities are close behind as the country registered a record 6,276 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday.

Brazil’s Health Ministry reported 449 related deaths in the prior 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 5,466 out of 78,162 confirmed cases.

In Rio de Janeiro, cemeteries have accelerated construction of above-ground vaults to entomb a wave of deceased patients. Undertakers in Manaus even resorted to burying coffins one on top of the other this week, but the city stopped the practice after grieving relatives protested.

Brazilian right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the gravity of the virus, calling it a “little cold,” came under new criticism for his remarks on the soaring deaths.

“So what? I’m sorry, but what do you want me to do?” Bolsonaro told reporters on Tuesday, saying he could not “work miracles.”

The accelerating death rate in Brazil is the most concerning of all emerging-market nations, Deutsche Bank analysts told clients in a note on Wednesday.

In Manaus, which is accessible only by plane or boat from the rest of Brazil, corpses are accumulating in a refrigerated container improvised as a morgue freezer as they await burial. At the main Taruma cemetery, a new area has been opened where undertakers were digging rows of graves and now just trenches for five coffins at a time.

The mayor’s office said the city’s funeral system was collapsing and running out of coffins.

Only two relatives are allowed to attend burials, and sometimes there is nobody to accompany the coffins to the grave. The city is recommending that families cremate their dead.

Reporting by Bruno Kelly in Manaus; Additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes and Leslie Adler

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