Simply after dusk about 60 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, Marlus Jesus was whisked right into a hospital after hours to confirm that he did not have coronavirus, then ushered right into a resort room.
His secret mission? The Brazilian soccer star Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior and a number of other teammates needed haircuts.
“I began reducing hair at about 8 p.m. and completed after midnight,” stated the 32-year-old barber. “I lower the hair of seven or eight gamers.”
He could not resist posting a selfie with Neymar on Instagram.
The haircuts, which shortly turned nationwide information, burst a strict “sanitary bubble” meant to maintain COVID-19 out of the Copa America, the premier soccer event on the continent.
The occasion has been shrouded in controversy since organizers hurriedly moved it to virus-stricken Brazil in early June, lower than two weeks earlier than kickoff. The unique co-hosts, Argentina and Colombia, had all of a sudden bowed out, citing an alarming rise in coronavirus instances.
Brazil, the place COVID-19 has claimed at the least 525,000 lives, a toll second solely to the US, was a curious second selection. Infections had been surging to unprecedented ranges because the nation entered a devastating third wave. However, to the shock of many, President Jair Bolsonaro enthusiastically agreed that Brazil be the host.
“From the start I’ve been saying, in relation to the pandemic: I’m sorry for the deaths, however we have now to dwell,” stated the far-right populist, who’s being investigated by a congressional committee for his dealing with of the pandemic, together with potential corruption associated to the acquisition of vaccines.
Authorities well being authorities and Copa America’s organizers say these taking a part of the event are following strict protocols to keep away from infections, as 10 groups compete in 4 Brazilian cities. Crowds are barred from stadiums and gamers should keep of their rooms when not coaching or enjoying matches. Practically 26,000 coronavirus checks had been administered as of this week.
However exterior well being specialists say the occasion is complicating Brazil’s struggle towards the virus.
At the very least 165 new instances have been linked on to the event. A complete of 37 had been gamers, coaches, trainers and different staff personnel, whereas 125 had been drivers, caterers, cleaners and others offering providers for the event. Three work for Conmebol, the South American soccer federation, which gives medics and referees to the event.
“We have seen that almost all of instances weren’t amongst gamers — they had been the folks offering them with providers,” stated Dr. Lucia Campos Pellanda, an epidemiologist and dean of Porto Alegre’s Federal College of Well being Sciences. “It is actually merciless — to reveal people who find themselves already susceptible.”
With out systematic contact tracing, authorities are unable to find out how these infections might have unfold coronavirus into the broader inhabitants.
Imposing protocols — and controlling the gamers off the sphere — has proved difficult. Members of Chile’s staff had been accused of partying and alluring prostitutes to their resort. Venezuelan staff members contaminated with the coronavirus allegedly broke quarantine, sneaking out of their rooms. Resort employees who got here involved with the rogue gamers complained that their pleas for testing had been ignored for days.
With the Tokyo Olympics simply over two weeks away, Brazil might function a grim bellwether on whether or not behemoth multinational sporting occasions could be held safely because the pandemic nonetheless rages on. Already, the Summer time Video games have sparked protests, as coronavirus instances surge throughout Asia.
“Even when the danger is minimal, even when an occasion like this ends in a single demise — is it price it?” Pellanda requested.
Outraged Brazilians have dubbed the event “Cova America,” rebranding it utilizing the Portuguese phrase for “grave.” Memes of a coffin kicking a coronavirus have swept via social media.
Brazil has superior to the ultimate, scheduled for Saturday. However many followers say that even when it wins and retains the title it captured in 2019, there might be little to have fun.
“There simply is not that very same pleasure that the sport often brings,” stated Júlia Passos, a 21-year-old meals service employee. “This time, it brings plenty of disappointment. As a result of it may well’t erase what occurred, how many individuals have died.”
Her household, like so many others, noticed the devastation of COVID-19 up shut. Her stepfather spent per week in hospital, struggling to breathe.
“With all of the ache Brazil goes via, that we’re going via,” Passos stated. “It’s not the time to host an enormous sporting occasion like this.”
Nonetheless, she couldn’t flip down a gig in a single Rio stadium internet hosting a number of the matches. Out of labor since March, the younger mom wanted the revenue. On recreation days, she earns $20 serving meals and drinks to the coaches, organizers and safety workers.
Passos managed to get one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and he or she and her colleagues are examined for coronavirus each different day. Nonetheless, she stated, the job feels dangerous, beginning together with her 25-mile commute from the outskirts of town.
“We find yourself so uncovered. We take trains packed full of individuals to get to work,” she stated. “However I actually wanted the work.”
Her stepbrother, Júnior Campos, wanted cash too and likewise jumped on the probability to nab a job on the stadium. But, at the same time as a soccer fan, the event left a bitter style.
“I misplaced my uncle and, simply final week, I misplaced my finest pal too,” stated Campos, 21, who was making use of to schools when the pandemic struck. “We’ve misplaced so many individuals to the virus. And so many are nonetheless dying. It’s absurd to have this occasion, to fake like life is again to regular right here, like in Europe.”
The Euro Cup, which is being held in 11 international locations throughout the continent, kicked off in June amid easing lockdowns and ramped-up vaccination campaigns in lots of the host nations. However even with diminished stadium capability and inflexible journey restrictions, the event has failed to completely keep away from an infection. The World Well being Group sounded an alarm lately, pointing to overcrowding and clusters of instances.
Well being specialists warn the dangers are even larger in Brazil, the place simply over 13% of the inhabitants is absolutely vaccinated. One specific fear is that extremely contagious new variants may achieve traction. The Delta pressure — first found in India — was noticed in a single metropolis internet hosting Copa America matches, although authorities are nonetheless uncertain if it contaminated event individuals.
Within the final two weeks, every day coronavirus instances have eased from June’s file peaks. However well being specialists nonetheless concern spikes. And with the lag between infections and sickness and hospitalization, they warn that the event’s full results might not grow to be clear for weeks.
Not like a lot of the world, Brazil by no means closed all the way down to comprise the virus. All alongside, Bolsonaro downplayed COVID-19 and urged Brazilians to maintain working. Lockdowns, he insisted, kill extra folks than the virus by hurting the economic system.
Brazil finally misplaced out on each fronts. Because the virus ripped via the nation undeterred, the pandemic decimated the economic system. A welfare scheme helped hold casual employees afloat final yr, however the help was slashed considerably as public spending ballooned.
Indignant Brazilians have taken to the streets, calling for vaccines, financial help and impeachment of the president. Practically 15 million are out of jobs and starvation has nearly doubled, with 19 million routinely going with out meals throughout the pandemic.
Confronted with financial want, thousands and thousands danger their well being searching for work, together with within the Copa America.
On a latest morning, Viviane Azevedo served breakfast to the Copa America delegations at a ritzy resort in Rio’s rich south zone. Nonetheless ready for her second dose of vaccine, she was glad for additional shifts on the resort that got here with the inflow of friends.
“It’s a shame actually, internet hosting this event now,” stated Azevedo, 43, who went again to waitressing after being laid off from a piercing studio early within the pandemic. “However for us, there’s no different manner. In right this moment’s Brazil, in the event you don’t take the danger, you’ll go hungry.”
Murilo Castro Vianna, 61, waited exterior the identical resort in a white shuttle bus, able to drive Uruguay’s staff to coaching. Earlier in his 12-hour shift, he had dropped off an injured participant on the airport. A couple of days earlier, a fellow driver had been sickened by COVID-19.
“I’ve spent every single day of this pandemic on the road, working,” he stated. Earlier than this, he had pushed round linesmen working for an electrical energy firm. “Right here, I’m being examined. I put on my masks, I attempt to watch out. That’s all you are able to do.”
Again on the barber store he owns in Belford Roxo, a working-class neighborhood on the northern fringe of Rio, Jesus was clad in a face masks as he swiftly razed a bit of boy’s hair right into a mullet, like those worn by soccer stars.
One chair over, an unmasked worker trimmed a shopper’s beard, then doused it in a aromatic spray. Stand-up comedy blared from the tv.
Jesus’ secret mission final month wasn’t the primary time he lower the hair of Brazil’s soccer elite. However the Copa America job was an opportunity he couldn’t cross up.
The tiny, vivid store had remained shut for a lot of the pandemic. Jesus saved reducing hair within the properties of shoppers, to remain afloat.
“Are we afraid of the virus?” Jesus stated. “After all we’re afraid. However we have now to work.”
Ionova is a particular correspondent.
This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Occasions.