The Amazon, Giver of Life, Unleashes the Pandemic

The Amazon, Giver of Life, Unleashes the Pandemic

THE VIRUS SWEPT THROUGH THE REGION like past plagues that have traveled the river with colonizers and corporations.

It spread with the dugout canoes carrying families from town to town, the fishing dinghies with rattling engines, the ferries moving goods for hundreds of miles, packed with passengers sleeping in hammocks, side by side, for days at a time.

The Amazon River is South America’s essential life source, a glittering superhighway that cuts through the continent. It is the central artery in a vast network of tributaries that sustains some 30 million people across eight countries, moving supplies, people and industry deep into forested regions often untouched by road.

But once again, in a painful echo of history, it is also bringing disease.

As the pandemic assails Brazil, overwhelming it with more than two million infections and more than 84,000 deaths — second only to the United States — the virus is taking an exceptionally high toll on the Amazon region and the people who have depended on its abundance for generations.

In Brazil, the six cities with the highest coronavirus exposure areall on the Amazon River, according to an expansive new study from Brazilian researchers that measured antibodies in the population.

The epidemic has spread so quickly and thoroughly along the river that in remote fishing and farming communities like Tefé, people have been as likely to get the virus as in New York City, home to one of the world’s worst outbreaks.