Brazil’s biggest city, Sao Paulo, has sped up efforts to empty old graves, making room for a soaring number of COVID-19 deaths.
Gravediggers in Vila Nova Cachoeirinha cemetery in the city’s north worked in white hazmat suits on Thursday to open the tombs of people buried years ago, bagging decomposed remains for removal to another location.
Relocating remains is standard in cemetery operations, said the municipal secretary responsible for funeral services, in a statement.
However it has taken on new urgency as Brazil suffers its worse coronavirus wave since the pandemic began over a year ago.
Brazil’s health ministry reported 3769 new COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, narrowly missing a daily record for a third straight day.
Bolivia announced on Thursday it would shut its borders to Brazil, citing concerns over a new variant of the disease detected in its larger neighbour.
A day earlier, Brazilian biomedical institute Butantan said it had detected a new variant that shared similarities with one first seen in South Africa, which appears more vaccine resistant.
The South African variant is more contagious, as is an earlier variant discovered in Brazil.
Chile also closed its borders to all foreigners on Thursday, while tightening a severe lockdown, as it surpassed one million cases recorded since the start of the pandemic.
“What is happening in Brazil is a global menace,” said Jose Miguel Bernucci, secretary of Chile’s National Medical Association.
“Closing the borders won’t help us so much with the variants that we already have here but with the new variants that can continue to be created.”
Countries around the region have expressed concern Brazil is a breeding ground for new variants, as cases surge and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro refuses to support masks and lockdowns.
Brazil’s outbreak is the second-deadliest in the world after the United States, averaging about 3100 deaths and 74,000 new cases per day over the past week.
Sao Paulo has also resorted to late-night burials to keep up with demand, with cemeteries authorised to stay open to 10 pm.
In the Vila Formosa cemetery, workers in masks and full protective gear have been digging rows of graves under flood lights and a full moon.
The city of Sao Paulo registered 419 burials on Tuesday, the most since the pandemic began.
If burials continue at that pace, city hall said it will need to take more contingency measures.