In this photo from April of 2019, Xavante people carry their traditional weapons during the annual three-day protest known as The Free Land Encampment.

Covid-19 strikes Brazil’s indigenous Xavante people, with 13 deaths in 5 days

According to the latest numbers released by the Special Indigenous Health Service (SESAI), at least 13 Xavante have people died over the past five days, and another 50 cases were confirmed during the same period.

A total of 16 Covid-19 deaths have now been recorded in the Xavante territory, located in the corner of the Mato Grosso state in the Amazon, making it the second-hardest hit indigenous territory in Brazil, according to SESAI. Indigenous communities in Alto Solimoes have recorded 25 deaths tied to the pandemic, the agency said.
Last week, Xavante leader Crisanto Rudzo Tseremeywá released a video of himself in a hospital bed on social media. He and his parents were infected in June. In the video, he warned Xavante people about the severity of the disease and pleaded with them to seek treatment immediately if they started to experience symptoms.

At first, the community did not believe the virus was going to enter Xavante territory, Lucio Lucio Terowa’a, secretary of the Federation of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of Mato Grosso, told CNN. Local authorities did not draw up an emergency plan to fight the virus or raise awareness about preventive measures, he added. “That’s why we are having this rapid contamination,” said Terowa’a.

Brazil’s National Indian Foundation, FUNAI, a government agency overseeing indigenous affairs, installed travel barriers at all nine Xavante territories earlier this year. “But that late arrival, the disease had already entered,” said Terowa’a, who has lost six people close to his family to Covid-19.

About 22,000 indigenous people live in the Xavante territories, surrounded by soy farms and cattle ranches. As of last Tuesday, 126 Xavante people were infected by Covid-19 and another 46 were suspected, according to SESAI.

In Barra dos Garças, a municipality that houses the São Marcos indigenous land where Terowa’a and his family live, two-thirds of all hospitalizations last week were Xavante people. Terowa’a is concerned that the hospital will collapse in the coming weeks. “If (the virus) spreads further, it won’t be able to offer treatment to anyone,” he said.

According to SESAI, as of June 30, 156 Brazilian indigenous people have died and 6,488 have been infected by the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to a count by the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), which includes cases and deaths of indigenous people who lived in urban areas (while SESAI only included those who lived in traditional villages), 380 indigenous people died and 9,414 were infected with Covid-19 by June 28.
Overall, cases of coronavirus have soared in Brazil. As of Wednesday, according to the Johns Hopkins global tracker, Brazil has recorded more than 1.4 million cases with death toll closing in on 60,000.