‘Stressful, sobering’: Australians in Brazil share their experiences as coronavirus fears grow

‘Stressful, sobering’: Australians in Brazil share their experiences as coronavirus fears grow

Australians trapped in Brazil say there is a growing frustration and a lack of trust in the government as the country struggles to contain its outbreak of coronavirus.

With over 330,000 cases, Brazil now has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University global tally.

Australian Jenni Milochis, 33, who has been in Sao Paulo for 10 months after coming over to teach English, said watching the federal government’s response in Brazil has been infuriating.

“We are getting frustrated pretty much. We can see other countries are doing much better in terms of policies,” she told SBS News.

“We are itching to get out, we don’t see the sun often. We are wanting things to get back to normal. Because of the lack of vitamin D from staying inside, we are having a lack of sleep, vivid dreams, nightmares, headaches. It’s not good,” she said.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has clashed with state governors who have attempted to lockdown their states to flatten the infection curb.

He has headlined anti-coronavirus lockdown rallies and urged people to continue working to keep the economy moving.

Mike Becker, 44, from Melbourne, has lived in Brazil for five years and is married to a Brazilian.

He says he tries not to let the chaos of federal politics in Brazil impact his daily life too much.

“I think Bolsonaro is a fool, the federal government’s response has been very bizarre. They have fired two health ministers, the justice minister resigned, Brazil politically is fragile in the best of times, under corona it’s more worrying,” he told SBS News.

Mike Becker says the current political climate in Brazil is 'worrying'.

Mike Becker says the current political climate in Brazil is ‘worrying’.


‘Protected by privilege’

Bronwyn Shimmin-Clarke, from Brisbane, said that while the situation was ‘sobering’, there was a stark difference as a privileged ex-patriot living in the country.

“It all depends on your privilege. I’m in a corporate apartment, there are masks, we can keep social distance, but within sight there are favelas all around us and those people don’t have the social distancing opportunity, and they don’t have the opportunity to stay home – if they don’t work they can’t eat,” she told SBS News.

“Even as I sit in Brazil I’m protected by privilege. A lot of people can’t get groceries delivered like I can. It’s very sobering,” she said.

She said the eeriest thing has been getting used to the steady stream of ambulances sirens passing her apartment in the small city of Recife.

“You’re on a call and you hear a pretty steady stream of ambulances. You hear a number and it says thousands then you hear the ambulances and you really realise it is actual people,” she said.

“If it got into the favelas it would just be devastating, so many people in such a small space, it would spread like wildfire,” she said.

Cancelled flights  

Three of the four Australians SBS News spoke to made the decision to come home early, but delayed, cancelled and overpriced flights have been a hindrance.

Ms Milochis said the only flights available this month were on sale for $7,000 one way, which she couldn’t afford, but she said there were some cheaper flights next month which she would try to book.

Benjamin O’Hanlon, from a small town in the Victorian region of Gippsland, has spent $4,000 on flights that have been cancelled and that he hasn’t been able to get a refund for.

“It’s been a bit stressful. There are no options but to buy commercial flights, they cost more and when they don’t run you don’t get your money back,” he said.

He has another flight booked for the coming days and is hoping this one will get him home.

For Mr Becker, he says Brazil is his home and he won’t be leaving despite the pandemic.

“It does take an impact on mental health, I haven’t been out in six weeks. But life goes on,” he said.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government’s coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone’s app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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