• Susanna Lehtimaki

Covid response in Rio de Janeiro - context matters

As of April 1, there has been 832 confirmed cases and 28 deaths in Rio de Janeiro, a state of 16.5 million inhabitants. Actual numbers are likely higher as due to limited testing capacity, only those with acute respiratory symptoms have been tested, with results taking as long as six days.


In the city of Rio, approximately a quarter of the city’s inhabitants, or 1.5 million people, live in over a thousand densely populated favelas. In a context where residents have limited access to water and hygiene; hand sanitizers are unaffordable; homes are overcrowded; and most do not have an option to work from home, mitigation strategies like hand washing and social distancing are not feasible. Calls to stay at home may even increase the risk of getting infected as families pack together in small quarters. High rates of infectious diseases (e.g. TB, pneumonia) and malnutrition further increase the vulnerabilities to the virus.


While the city is implementing multiple measures to tackle the epidemic across the sectors (see a list in the end), in the absence of basic facilities and resources, prevention is impaired. In support of favela residents, a number of community-based organizations have launched campaigns, such as “Pandemia com Empatia”, to provide food, hygiene products, funding and relevant information on COVID-19, including on where to seek help. While valuable, these grassroots actions lack a coherent planning and the response remains sporadic. With little government presence in favelas, gang leaders have also taken the lead on the COVID-19 response, including by imposing curfews.


COVID-19 pandemic will have a severe impact on favela residents. Already now, 70% of families have experienced a fall in income. As schools are closed, over 80% of families have reported increased expenses related to children staying at home.

List of the city’s multi-sector response

The response of the city of Rio de Janeiro includes measures across many sectors:


Health:

- Increased the number of hospital beds, recruited medical staff, and reorganized health services (i.e. designated a hospital for COVID patients), and developed technical guidance for medical and other facilities.

- Conducted mass Influenza vaccinations of the elderly.

- Introduced a decree to allow the municipality to purchase some necessary goods, such as hand sanitizers, to prevent overpricing.

- Rolled out a massive communication campaign.


Social services:

- Distributed food for families through child development centers, hygiene kits and food packages for people living on streets.

- Reconstructed the Carnival stadium to accommodate around 400 homeless people and provided hotels for the elderly that live in crowded accommodation.

- Donated approximately 6 tons of food per month for low-income communities as well as nursing homes, shelters and orphanages produced in urban gardens.

- Helped self-employed workers with low income to have lunch and dinner at fixed price in cantinas.


Education:

- Closed schools till April 12.

- As schools are closed, school buses are used to transport city health and social workers and officials to work (over 4,000 people) and school meals are reallocated to shelters.

- Supported home schooling with education materials in a dedicated web-portal and YouTube.


Others:

- Only essential commercial services, such as banks, supermarket, bakeries, hardware stores, and gas stations are open.

- Remote work is supported by providing access to video-conference and data sharing tools and antivirus programs free-of-charge.

- Micro entrepreneurs are supported to advertise their services in a specific web-portal to encourage local purchase of services.

- Funding for cultural projects will be provided, with project to be realized in 2021.


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