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Sao Paulo Mayor Bruno Covas, 40, is simultaneously facing cancer that has led to several hospitalizations and the spread of the coronavirus in Brazil’s economic capital, under pressure from far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who relativizes the crisis.
From his office, where he installed his bed and a nightstand, Covas declares himself available 24 hours a day to attend to the health emergency in his city of 12.2 million inhabitants.
He was diagnosed with cancer last year. Two tumors, in the heart and liver, disappeared with chemotherapy. He began to be treated with immunotherapy for a third tumor in the lymph nodes on February 26, when Sao Paulo registered the first case of covid-19 in Brazil.
“I didn’t think of leaving [la alcaldía] because at no time did the doctors say it was necessary, “says Covas in an interview with . in one of the rooms of the government headquarters.
Her thinness, the absence of hair that begins to grow and the paleness of her complexion portray her personal fight against cancer. Dressed in black and with a tight-fitting facial mask, he offers succinct and concrete responses.
He acknowledges his frustration at the reluctance of the people of São Paulo to respect the measures of confinement, despite the fact that the new coronavirus has already left more than 3,000 dead in his city (out of a total of 21,000 in Brazil) and some 40,000 cases of contagion.
“But at the same time it is gratifying to see that some 6 million people respect them,” he says, highlighting estimates of an isolation rate of 50% in the city, in partial quarantine since March 24.
The biggest challenge, he stresses, is to convince the population of the need for isolation.
“We have been in quarantine for almost two months, each day that passes is a day of extra sacrifice that we ask for,” he stresses.
Covas considers, however, “unfeasible” to decree total confinement in the capital of the richest and most populous state in the country, without aligning with other local and state authorities “because [Sao Paulo] it is a city very connected with neighboring municipalities. “
Despite the situation, the mayor affirms that the city “is going through this crisis in a better situation than other large capitals.”
One of his priorities is to guarantee medical care for all those from São Paulo, something he claims to have achieved so far.
But the health system is approaching its limit, with 88% occupancy of intensive care units in the São Paulo metropolitan region, according to official numbers.
Covas highlights the search for alternatives to expand the hospital structure. The mayor’s office opened two field hospitals that serve a total of about 2,500 covid-19 patients and has incorporated hundreds of places to existing ones. Now he is looking for an agreement with the largest private hospitals to have more places.
– “Very harmful” –
The mayor’s office works in the imposing and central Matarazzo Building, with fifteen floors, crowned by an array of trees and plants, where Covas spends most of his time and receives his 14-year-old son, whose mother is divorced, a few times a week. . He only goes out to visit hospitals or meet with authorities, such as Joao Doria, the governor of Sao Paulo, with whom he maintains a close alignment.
It was when Doria left the mayor’s office in April 2018 (to dispute the state’s government) that Covas, his deputy mayor, took the helm.
Educated in law, the grandson of Mario Covas (1930-2001), one of the most influential politicians in Brazil, started his career early, winning his first election in 2006, as a deputy in the Sao Paulo Assembly for the Social Party. -Brazilian Democracy (PSDB, by former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso).
In troubled contemporary Brazil, Covas, who declares himself a center, says he is concerned about the effects of Bolsonaro’s speech.
“Brazil misses many opportunities (…) You see a president who is not concerned about medical protocol, but wants a decree on the use of chloroquine [contra la covid-19]”Issued on Wednesday.” That ends up being very damaging, “he says.
Bolsonaro supporters’ caravans have roamed the streets of Sao Paulo since the start of the pandemic, defying the recommendations of regional and municipal authorities. However, Covas affirms that “repression has no place. Sao Paulo is the symbol of democracy in the country.”
And he questions the politicization of the fight against the pandemic, stating that “the virus is not from the left or from the right, it is a scientific reality that must be faced.”