Covid sleuth shames Brazil’s party people as deaths pass 200,000

Covid sleuth shames Brazil’s party people as deaths pass 200,000

Fuelled by black coffee, yellow-tipped cigarettes and white, incandescent rage, the faceless sleuth lurks on social media poised to unmask his next target.

“It’s outrageous, bizarre, it’s horrifying – a collective genocide,” fumed the twentysomething activist who burns the midnight oil scouring the internet for footage of parties being thrown despite a rapidly deteriorating Covid crisis that has killed more than 200,000 Brazilians.

“I truly believe people have been infected with the stupidity virus,” added the amateur investigator who publishes images of the hedonism on a Twitter account called Brazil Covidfest.

The smartphone gumshoe, a journalist from the southern city of Curitiba who asked not to be named, is one of several Brazilian activists who have begun shaming unrepentant party people online as their country’s epidemic again spirals out of control.

Brazil’s crisis, which peaked last July, has intensified in recent weeks, with many hospitals struggling to cope and the number of daily deaths hitting levels not seen since August. On Thursday 1,524 new fatalities took Brazil’s official toll to 200,498, the world’s second highest after the US.

But from the sands of Ipanema to small Amazonian towns, the revelry has continued. “It’s the whole of Brazil – wherever you look there’s a party or a crowd,” complained the Twitter activist who said he had launched his crusade just before New Year’s Eve.

Since then he has used Apps such as Story Saver and Instasave to capture social media videos posted by revellers and DJs – and expose their end-of-year partying to millions of eyeballs under the hashtag #Covidfest.

“Our goal isn’t to crucify anyone or be some kind of moral watchdog,” he insisted. “Our goal is to show that we’re facing a critical moment of this pandemic and these people who are going out and disrespecting life will end up harming other people and harming themselves too.”

Over the past 10 days the anonymous campaigner has denounced packed shindigs in virtually every corner of Brazil: politicians making merry in Maranhãosamba fans cavorting in Riobleary-eyed beachgoers in Rio Grande do Norte, and gurning clubbers in the Amazon state of Pará.

Many of the revelers, he suspected, were followers of Brazil’s far-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro, who has cocked a snook at Covid and repeatedly sabotaged containment efforts by wading through crowds and playing down the disease’s dangers.

“But people who oppose Bolsonaro who have been joining the crowds too. It’s leftwing people, rightwing people, centrists. It’s a mix,” the activist said, noting that most of the 300-odd celebrations he had exposed had the approval of authorities.

Foreigners have also swelled the crowds. “Wanting to go out dancing tonight, ideally to live music and no mask bullshit? Anyone know a good place?” one tourist wrote on a Facebook group for visitors to Rio last Thursday as Brazil’s death toll hit 200,000.

With the body count rising and vaccination yet to begin, health professionals have voiced exasperation at the merriment.

“It’s so ignorant and stupid,” the doctor and broadcaster Drauzio Varella told the Globo network last week. “They couldn’t care less about the people who will die as they sit waiting for an intensive care bed.”

Jesem Orellana, an epidemiologist from the Amazon city of Manaus, expressed frustration that so many locals – guided by figures such as Bolsonaro and false claims of herd immunity – had unilaterally declared the pandemic over and restarted their social lives at restaurants and raves.

“I just don’t think there’s anything more to be said to these people,” said the researcher from the Fiocruz public health research centre. “These are people who know what they’re doing, who show disdain for the lives of others, and are very likely influenced by politicians and celebrities who encourage this kind of behaviour. [They] don’t care because life has no value to them.”

In Manaus, where authorities were forced to dig mass graves during the epidemic’s devastating first wave, the consequences have been dramatic, with a 605% rise in Covid-related hospital admissions since early September. On Wednesday there were 110 burials, compared with the usual 30, while 19 people reportedly died at home. The city’s mayor last week declared a 180-day state of emergency but Orellana said that was too little, too late.

“We feel despair – that’s the truth,” said Orellana. “It’s a tragedy foretold.”

The Twitter activist said his nights trawling social media had left him exhausted and his hands and arms aching from too many hours clutching his phone. He had also received threats from some of those whose partying he had revealed. “You’re exposing me! I’m going to sue you! We’re going to find you!” he said some had warned.

But with carnival approaching next month and the partying certain to accelerate, he vowed to continue his campaign in the hope of persuading at least some to stay at home. “We won’t change the world but maybe we’ll change some attitudes,” he said, “and even save some lives.”