Remote Amazon tribe faces being wiped out after boy, 15, catches coronavirus

A member of the Yanomami rainforest community is in hospital after becoming the first member of his tribe to catch coronavirus.

There are now fears that the disease could wipe out entire indigenous groups following his admission to the General Hospital of Roraima, Brazil, where he was in a critical condition.

He was taken there on April 3 suffering from a shortness of breath, chest pain, a sore throat and a fever and is now in intensive care. Indigenous peoples in the Amazon rainforest are particularly vulnerable to imported diseases, because they have been historically isolated from germs against which much of the world has developed immunity.

Health Minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, said on Wednesday: ‘Today we confirmed a case (of the virus) among the Yanomami, which is very worrying.

‘We have to be triply cautious with (indigenous) communities, especially the ones that have very little contact with the outside world.’

Brazil has now confirmed at least seven coronavirus cases among the indigenous population, according to the newspaper Globo.

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The first was a 20-year-old woman from the Kokama ethnic group who was confirmed positive a week ago.

Brazil is home to an estimated 800,000 indigenous people from more than 300 ethnic groups.

The Yanomami, who are known for their face paint and intricate piercings, number around 27,000.

Largely isolated from the outside world until the mid-20th century, they were devastated by diseases such as measles and malaria in the 1970s.

Brazil’s Amazonas state warned on Thursday that its health system has been overwhelmed by the coronavirus epidemic, with all intensive care beds and ventilators already taken as a result of the outbreak.

As the virus spreads across the country from its epicenter in Brazil’s wealthiest city of Sao Paulo, it is highlighting the huge discrepancies in healthcare provisions in this continent-sized country.

Manaus, a city of 2 million in the heart of the Amazon rainforest and the capital of Amazonas, has been particularly hard hit, with 800 confirmed cases. The state as a whole has had 40 deaths out of around 900 confirmed cases.

Manaus is the only city in the state with intensive care units.

Rosemary Pinto, head of the state health system, pleaded for people to heed social distancing orders aimed at shutting down all but essential activities.

‘There are still too many people in the streets,’ she said at a news conference.

‘Families are sitting out on chairs in front of their homes. There are lines at the banks, including elderly people who are at risk, and that is why so many are dying,’ she said.

The crisis led the state governor to replace his health secretary on Wednesday.

‘Most of the cases are concentrated in Manaus, but when the virus spreads to the interior of the state and reaches the indigenous communities, it will be a catastrophe,’ said Marcelo Ramos, a federal lawmaker representing Amazonas.

Health experts and anthropologists have warned of the danger of the pandemic decimating Brazil’s 850,000 indigenous people because they have no immunity to external diseases and live in communal homes where social distancing is not possible.

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