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A main street in São Luís, the capital of Maranhão state and a coronavirus hot spot.

A main street in São Luís, the capital of Maranhão state and a coronavirus hot spot.

Photographer: Gustavo Minas for Bloomberg Businessweek

The Pandemic’s Worst-Case Scenario Is Unfolding in Brazil

Overflowing hospitals. Widespread corruption. And a chloroquine-obsessed populist in charge.

On a recent afternoon in São Luís, the capital of Maranhão state in northeastern Brazil, Hosana Lima Castro sat on a flimsy plastic chair in front of her house as stray dogs sniffed potholes in the narrow street and a few neighborhood kids launched kites. The bar across the way, where a few months ago an acquaintance of Castro’s had been shot, was closed because of the pandemic.

Her job at a convenience store had disappeared too, so Castro, who’s 43 and shares her modest home with her father, two brothers, and two of her kids, had nowhere else to be. Although the novel coronavirus is widespread across Brazil’s northeast, she wasn’t wearing a mask. Nor was anyone else in her crowded neighborhood, where basic services have been so neglected that many residents have no access to clean water.