A haunting image of a body abandoned in the street in coronavirus-racked Rio shows how Brazil's health system is struggling to cope

coronavirus death coffin grave cemetery brazil
Mourners carry the coffin of Valnir Mendes da Silva, 62, who died on a sidewalk in the Arara slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after experiencing difficulty breathing during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, May 18, 2020.

Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

  • Content warning: This article contains a disturbing image. Discretion is advised.

  • The body of Valnir Mendes da Silva, 62, who died after experiencing difficulty breathing, was abandoned on a sidewalk of a poor Rio de Janeiro neighborhood for 30 hours, according to relatives and neighbors.

  • In Rio de Janeiro state, which has the second-highest number of deaths in Brazil, most hospitals accepting COVID-19 patients have run out of intensive care beds.

  • South America has become a new epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic with Brazil hardest-hit.

  • President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently downplayed the pandemic, calling the coronavirus a "little flu" and fiercely criticizing state governors and mayors who introduce lockdowns.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Valnir Mendes da Silva's died after experiencing breathing problems amid the coronavirus outbreak in a slum district of Rio de Janerio. He collapsed on the sidewalk and later died.

His body lay there abandoned for 30 hours, residents told Reuters. Someone placed a sheet over his corpse, only his bare feet left uncovered, and arranged some traffic cones around the body, so passers-by did not trip the dead man lying in the street. On a dirt soccer pitch a few feet away, games continued.

Although the cause of Silva's death is not confirmed, the 62-year-old is suspected to a victim of Brazil's rapidly increasing death toll from the coronavirus, which currently stands at 21,000.

The true number of cases and deaths is likely higher than the figures suggest, as Latin America's top economy has been slow to ramp up testing, according to Reuters.

When Silva complained that he could not breathe, the locals said they called an ambulance for him, but he died before it arrived. Neighbors believe he had died from the respiratory diseases caused by the coronavirus, but nobody was certain.

The paramedics declared the body dead but left it on the street as the city ambulance service is not responsible for removing corpses. The police also denied responsibility for it. They only remove corpses in criminal cases, Reuters was told.

Eventually, a funeral service contacted by a relative collected the body, after more than a day on the sidewalk.

The coronavirus entered Rio via wealthier residents returning from vacation in Europe, but it has since spread into the poorer neighborhoods and the outbreak is accelerating.

Brazil now has the third highest number of confirmed cases of the virus in the world, behind only the US and Russia, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Below is an image of Mendes da Silva's body, which some people may find disturbing.

Discretion is advised:

The body of Valnir Mendes da Silva lies on a sidewalk where he died in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 2020, during the coronavirus crisis.
The body of Valnir Mendes da Silva, 62, lies on a sidewalk where he died, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 17, 2020.

REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for his handling of the outbreak and is at the center of a deepening political crisis. The president has consistently downplayed the threat dismissing the coronavirus as a "little flu."

He has praised anti-lockdown protesters and touted unproven remedies, as the pandemic has overwhelmed Brazil's coastal cities and traveled to its vast interior. Bolsonaro's approach has been compared to Donald Trump's political playbook.

Meanwhile, there are fears that Brazil's health system is on the brink of collapse. It was ill-prepared for the pandemic and lacked the correct PPE for its hard-pressed doctors and nurses.

According to The Wall Street Journal, at least 116 nurses have died in Brazil. The Journal added that nurses and other healthcare workers in Brazil often only have access to" aging equipment and lack enough face shields, goggles, gloves, and gowns to battle a highly contagious disease."

In Rio de Janeiro state, which has the second highest number of deaths in Brazil, most hospitals accepting COVID-19 patients have run out of intensive care beds, AP reported last week.

The response to the crisis has also been hampered by the resignation of two health ministers within weeks.

In May, Nelson Teich resigned following disagreements over the government's handling of the escalating coronavirus crisis. He had opposed a decree issued by Bolsonaro, allowing gyms and beauty parlors to reopen.

The president fired his predecessor, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, in April, after publicly criticizing him for urging people to observe social distancing and stay indoors.

The authorities have also approved the use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19, also favored by President Trump.  However, the World Health Organization has warned that clinical trials do not support the use of the drug in fighting the disease.

There are also fears for indigenous peoples living in the Amazon rainforest.

For indigenous tribes in Brazil, the coronavirus pandemic poses "an extreme threat to their very survival," said an open letter to Bolsonaro, signed by Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, Brad Pitt, Paul McCartney, and other high-profile figures, according to The Guardian.

"Five centuries ago, these ethnic groups were decimated by diseases brought by European colonizers," the letter said.

"Now, with this new scourge spreading rapidly across Brazil … [they] may disappear completely since they have no means of combating COVID-19."

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