Brazilian port workers are starting to fall ill as the coronavirus pandemic reaches one of Latin America’s busiest shipping hubs.
At least three privately-run terminals that handle soybeans, corn, sugar and coffee at Brazil’s Santos port have registered two cases each of Covid-19 in the past two weeks, according to people with direct knowledge who asked not to be identified because the matter hasn’t been made public.
While the infections haven’t restricted operations yet, the terminals are fighting to contain the outbreak at a time of all-time high exports and queues of vessels.
One of the terminals has implemented strict social-distancing measures as well as a contingency plan that includes bringing in outsourced workers if absenteeism among its 500-strong staff puts operations at risk, one of the sources said.
The two infected workers have recovered and may return to work this week, said the person. Two employees who fell ill at a coffee terminal at Santos have also recovered, another source said.
The coronavirus threat is also on the other side of the Santos port. Two container ships that arrived at Santos are in quarantine with confirmed cases of Covid-19 among their crews, health regulator Anvisa said on its website.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 17 crew members of vessels passing through the port needed medical assistance for respiratory conditions, 13 of whom tested positive for Covid-19, the Santos health department said.
The coronavirus has spread quickly in Brazil, triggering local officials to toughen restrictions. Large cities including Fortaleza and Belem have instituted strict lockdowns, while the city of Sao Paulo is clamping down on automobile travel and Rio de Janeiro is extending quarantines.
In the city of Santos, where the port is located, the number of cases and deaths have jumped with intensive care units almost full at about 80%, according to the city health secretariat.