A looping message blares out from a loudspeaker on Flavio Rafael’s bicycle as he rides through the deserted streets of Cedro do Abaete: “Our town is the only one in Brazil with no confirmed cases. It’s up to you to keep the virus away.”
The small southeastern town of 1,200 inhabitants is the only municipality in this sprawling country of 212 million people not to report a single case of the new coronavirus.
That is no small feat, given how the pandemic has engulfed the rest of Brazil: the country has confirmed more than six million infections and 170,000 deaths from Covid-19, the second-highest number worldwide, after the United States.
“There are various factors” that explain Cedro do Abaete’s success, said town official Carlos Rodrigues Pinto.
“We don’t have public transportation here, and it’s a quiet town. If you add that to the actions the health department is taking and the effort we’re putting into constantly asking people to stay home and social distance, that explains our good results.”
In addition to initiatives such as Rafael’s bicycle-delivered public service announcements, the town also provides free face masks and widespread testing.
“What I do is important. People actually listen,” said Rafael, taking a break from his twice-daily rounds up and down the town’s otherwise silent streets.
The response to the pandemic has been haphazard in Brazil. Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has clashed with state and local authorities over lockdown measures, which he insists are worse than the virus itself.
Most of Brazil is emerging from partial lockdown, or never observed official restrictions much to begin with. But Cedro do Abaete is sticking to its plan.
“Don’t let your guard down,” says the message the city has hired Rafael to play.
Cedro do Abaete is the second-smallest town in the state of Minas Gerais.
More than half its population is over 50, and the nearest hospital is 35 kilometers (20 miles) away in another town, Abaete.
Residents used to go there for medical care. But since the pandemic began, the health department has arranged for specialists to visit the town periodically instead.
The town also launched its own face mask workshop.
“We hand them out to everyone,” said municipal health secretary Cassia dos Santos.
The town has won praise for its management of the health crisis, but officials say it is important to stay alert.
“We could be caught by surprise at any time,” said Pinto.
by Douglas MAGNO / with Paula RAMON in Sao Paulo