May 21, 2020 / 4:22 PM / 16 days ago

Catholic priest gives out masks in coronavirus-stricken Amazon favela

FILE PHOTO: Residents sit near a dog, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), next to the Educandos stream near the Negro river at Educandos slum in Manaus, Brazil, May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

MANAUS, Brazil (Reuters) - As the coronavirus has spread rapidly in the poorest parts of the Amazon’s biggest city, a local priest has begun to make masks in his church and hand them out across his parish.

Father Alfredo Avelar is going door-to-door distributing masks in Educandos, a crowded favela in the Brazilian city of Manaus, where 16,000 people live in precarious wooden homes perched on a hillside or on stilts over a river filled with trash and sewer water.

“The situation is very delicate. There are people dying in their homes for lack of hospital beds,” the 33-year-old priest said at his church in the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

The hospital system in Manaus has run out of intensive care units, while mounting deaths have forced the city cemetery to resort to collective graves.

More than 50% of the city’s inhabitants live in inadequate housing, according to Brazil’s statistics agency IBGE.

Most of the homes in Educandos, built a mile from the center of Manaus on a polluted tributary to the Rio Negro river, have no basic sanitation.

The priest and his church helpers do the rounds along narrow alleys of wooden planks, handing out masks or pushing them through portholes in doors to confined elderly couples. Some of the masks of blue and white cloth have an image of the Virgin Mary stamped on them.

“I decided to stay home because I was afraid my children would get infected,” said manicurist Juliane Silva, who was wearing a mask made by the church.

Writing by Anthony Boadle, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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