Think remote corners of the Amazon are safe from infection? Sadly, not so. Brazilian health officials say Alvanei Xirixana—a 15-year-old member of the Yanomami tribe—died Thursday after contracting COVID-19, the Guardian reports. The boy experienced symptoms including fever and shortness of breath, per Fox News, and was placed in ICU at Roraima General Hospital in Boa Vista on April 3. The cause of death wasn't released, but reports suggest illegal gold miners could be responsible for Alvanei's infection. "Today, without a doubt, the main vector for the spread of COVID-19 inside the Yanomami Indigenous Territory is the more than 20,000 illegal miners that go in and out of the territory without any control," says the Socio-Environmental Institute, per CNN.
And that's nothing new: Carlo Zaquini, an Italian missionary involved with the Yanomami for decades, says miners and roadbuilders brought epidemics in the 1970s and 1980s. "It was like driving a bulldozer into a glass factory," he says. "Everything was shattered. It was one epidemic after another. ... If Covid does the same thing it would be a massacre." A Brazilian columnist adds that "the white man" has brought epidemics to indigenous people "since the 16th century," and now "the threat is back." Meanwhile, Brazil has 18,397 confirmed coronavirus cases, 974 deaths, and 24 possible cases among the nation's 850,000 indigenous people. The Yanomami, known for their extensive botanical knowledge, number around 38,000 and inhabit the Brazil-Venezuela border area. (Read more coronavirus stories.)