Rio's Favela Gangs Impose Strict Curfews To Fight Spread Of "Disease Of The Rich"

Brazilian newspaper Extra says gangsters and militias in Cidade de Deus, Brazil, have deployed vehicles with massive loudspeakers blaring prerecorded messages to inform residents in the slums that they must shelter in place amid the COVID-19 outbreak, reported Reuters

"We're imposing a curfew because nobody is taking this seriously," the message said, according to Extra.

"Whoever is in the street screwing around or going for a walk will receive a corrective and serve as an example. Better to stay home doing nothing. The message has been given."

Cidade de Deus is a West Zone neighborhood of the Rio de Janeiro city, known for lawless favelas. 

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been criticized for his slow response to the outbreak, as more than 2,274 confirmed cases and 47 deaths had been reported in the South American country. 

There was speculation earlier this month that Bolsonaro tested positive for the virus, though, later reports revealed that was false. 

Reuters notes, while Extra is a "well-sourced Rio newspaper," they could not verify the recorded message that was played to residents. 

Criminal gangs and militias often act as de facto authorities in favelas, one where the government has very little oversight. Favela residents have called COVID-19: "the disease of the rich," due mostly because wealthier Brazilians returning from Europe brought the virus over. 

Since the government has been unprepared to fight the virus in the country, but more importantly favelas like Cidade de Deus, it has been up to gangs and militia to make sure residents obey social distancing rules. Another issue, and one that gangs cannot solve, is the access to healthcare, the area does not have a modern hospital system.  

Across all of Brazil, 40 million people lack clean water. At the same time, 100 million, or about half the population, don't have access to public sewage, increasing fears that the lack of basic sanitation and weak immune systems could lead to a significant outbreak. 

"Basic sanitation is terrible," said Jefferson Maia, a 27-year-old resident of Cidade de Deus. "Sometimes, we don't even have water to wash our hands properly. We are very concerned with the coronavirus issue."

Thamiris Deveza, a family doctor, working in Rio's Alemao complex of slums, told Reuters that the fast-spreading virus could wreak havoc in favelas. 

Bolsonaro has followed President Trump's playbook in attempting to keep the economy open and restore normal life as quickly as possible. 

Bolsonaro has defied advice from the medical community to implement a nationwide lockdown, has also lashed out at local governors who have closed their economies to slowdown infections. 

On Tuesday, Rio's Governor Wilson Witzel reduced public transportation while shuttering local shops and even closed the beach. 

Witzel recently warned that Rio's public health system was at risk of "collapse." 

Edmilson Migowski, a virologist at Rio's Federal University, said favelas across the country could be the epicenter of the virus outbreak.