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Military hands out masks to protect isolated Amazon tribes

A gold rush that has brought an estimated 20,000 gold prospectors to invade Brazil’s largest reservation has poisoned rivers and destroyed forest, and the Yanomami say the miners have brought the novel coronavirus.

A Yanomami man in red face paint receives medical attention in Alto Alegre, Brazil.

A Yanomami man in red face paint receives medical attention in Alto Alegre, Brazil.Credit:Getty Images

Indigenous leaders appealed to the Supreme Court on Wednesday to order the federal government to protect isolated tribes by barring outsiders from reservation lands and expelling illegal poachers, loggers and wildcat miners said to bring fatal diseases.


The indigenous umbrella organisation APIB asked that invaders be removed, with the deployment of military forces if necessary, from the reservations of the Yanomami, Karipuna, Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau, Kayapó, Arariboia and Munduruku peoples.

APIB said 405 indigenous people had died of COVID-19 by June 27, with 9983 infected among 112 different tribes.


In Surucucu, Yanomami families with mothers carrying their bundled infants were frightened at first by the arrival of the medical personnel and supplies of protective equipment and medicine in roaring military helicopters.

The men fumbled the mask as they covered their faces painted with red body paint from tree bark.

“The indigenous health service [Sesai] is good for us, they help us so we came to ask for help to see if we are well,” said a Yanomami elder wearing a large white face mask. “We walked four hours to arrive here,” he said through an interpreter.

Nurses took temperatures and rapid COVID-19 tests.

“When we arrived they were a little bit afraid, observing us from afar, but then we started gaining their trust, they came closer and all went well,” said Brazilian Air Force medic, Lieutenant Fernanda Ribeiro.

Brazil registered 1016 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 60,610, the Ministry of Health said.

Total confirmed cases rose by 45,482 to reach 1,447,523, the second-worst outbreak in the world behind the United States.


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