LATIN AMERICA, where Covid-19 cases are surging, is the new epicentre of the pandemic, the World Health Organization reports.
These countries surpassed the United States and Europe in daily reported cases this week, and the peak is thought to be still several weeks away.
The spread among the “urban poor . . . has been dramatic, not fully recorded, and in many cases fatal”, the Church Mission Society (CMS), which has many mission partners working in these countries, has warned.
“Coronavirus arrived in Latin America through those wealthy enough to travel,” the mission and development manager for Latin America, Paul Tester, said. “It quickly spread, and there is no doubt that the worst affected are the poor and vulnerable in areas where health care is less available. The Amazon cities of Manaus in Brazil, and Iquitos in Peru, alongside the coastal city of Guayaquil in Ecuador are examples of the horrendous impact that the pandemic can have when there are not the facilities to cope with it.”
Brazil is the nation with the second most cases in the world, behind only the US, and has recorded more than 24,500 deaths. As limited testing is in place, the true number is likely to be much higher. Despite the rise in cases and deaths, however, the President, Jair Bolsanaro, has repeatedly called for an end to lockdown measures, and has made a show of not social-distancing.
A study by the University of Washington has warned that the number of deaths could reach 125,000 by early August.
The Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Marcelo Crivella, who is a bishop in an Evangelical Church, announced that churches would be able to stay open as an “essential service”, despite continuing stay-at-home measures; and, although public gatherings are banned, many churches have remained open around the country.
Chile, Peru, and Mexico are also struggling to contain outbreaks of the virus. Ecuador has the highest number of deaths per million in South America: 3200 deaths from a population of 17 million.
There are also particular fears for indigenous populations across the Amazon basin: more than 30 indigenous groups report more than 500 Covid-19 cases and 100 deaths. The advocacy group Articulation of Indigenous People of Brazil said that the figures showed that the death rate was twice as high for indigenous peoples as the overall national rate.
Roman Catholic leaders have warned of a “humanitarian and environmental tragedy” in the Amazon basin. The Pan-Amazonian Church Network issued a statement saying: “The pain and lament of the people and the earth join in a single cry.”
Mr Tester, of CMS, said that they were praying for the “indigenous peoples we have served for many years across the Argentine and Paraguayan Chaco; praying that the virus will not make it to the isolated communities where we fear it would be devastating, as it has been elsewhere”.
CMS partners in Latin America are sharing food, serving prisoners vulnerable to Covid-19, helping young people, and distributing food parcels to the most vulnerable.
“Our prayer is that each of these small but significant acts will bear witness to hope in Jesus in a region which is once again experiencing too many moments of tears,” Mr Tester said.