A cemetery worker exhumes the body of a person buried three years ago at the Vila Formosa cemetery, which does not charge families for the gravesites, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, June 12, 2020. Three years after burials, remains are routinely exhumated and stored in plastic bags to make room for more burials, which have increased amid the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

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Brazil is exhuming graveyards to make room for increased burials amid coronavirus

Sao Paulo has started to dig up graveyards to create more space as coronavirus continues to ravage Brazil.

In a statement issued Friday, Sao Paulo’s municipal funeral service said the remains of people who died at least three years ago will be exhumed and put in numbered bags, then stored temporarily in containers that will be delivered to other cemeteries within 15 days.

In April, gravediggers at the cemetery Vila Formosa buried 1,654 people, an increase of 500 from the previous month. Numbers for May and June were not yet available.

A cemetery worker exhumes the body of a person buried three years ago at the Vila Formosa cemetery, which does not charge families for the gravesites, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, June 12, 2020. Three years after burials, remains are routinely exhumated and stored in plastic bags to make room for more burials, which have increased amid the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Adenilson Costa, a gravedigger at Vila Formosa, said their work has only grown more arduous during the pandemic and he fears what is to come.

“With this opening of malls and stores, we get even more worried. We are not in the curve; we are in the peak and people aren’t aware,” Costa said. “This isn’t over. Now is the worrisome moment. And there are still people out.”

A cemetery worker puts a cranium into a bag while exhuming the body of a person buried three years ago at the Vila Formosa cemetery, which does not charge families for the gravesites, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, June 12, 2020. Three years after burials, remains are routinely exhumated and stored in plastic bags to make room for more burials, which have increased amid the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

A cemetery worker puts a cranium into a bag while exhuming the body of a person buried three years ago at the Vila Formosa cemetery, which does not charge families for the gravesites, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, June 12, 2020. Three years after burials, remains are routinely exhumated and stored in plastic bags to make room for more burials, which have increased amid the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

A decline in intensive care beds to about 70 percent prompted Mayor Bruno Covas to partially reopen businesses, which has prompted crowds across the city who show no regard for social distancing.

“People say nothing scares gravediggers. COVID does,” Costa said.

Cemetery workers exhume remains buried three years ago at the Vila Formosa cemetery, which does not charge families for the gravesites, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, June 12, 2020. Three years after burials, remains are routinely exhumated and stored in plastic bags to make room for more burials, which have increased amid the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Cemetery workers exhume remains buried three years ago at the Vila Formosa cemetery, which does not charge families for the gravesites, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, June 12, 2020. Three years after burials, remains are routinely exhumated and stored in plastic bags to make room for more burials, which have increased amid the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Brazil is the second-most infected country in the world with 832,866 total cases, and it surpassed the U.K. on Friday to become the country with the second-highest death toll from the pandemic, with over 42,055 dead so far. Sao Paulo alone accounts for 5,480 of those deaths, making it one of the most severe hot spots in what is the hardest-hit nation in Latin America.

While governors and mayors across the country have attempted to combat the pandemic, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently resisted any lockdown efforts. His prioritization of the economy over his people’s health and his attempts to frame the pandemic as more of a hoax than a threat led British medical journal The Lancet to label him the greatest threat to Brazil’s efforts.

Cemetery workers exhume a body that was buried three years ago at the Vila Formosa cemetery, which does not charge families for the gravesites, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, June 12, 2020. Three years after burials, remains are routinely exhumated and stored in plastic bags to make room for more burials, which have increased amid the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Cemetery workers exhume a body that was buried three years ago at the Vila Formosa cemetery, which does not charge families for the gravesites, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, June 12, 2020. Three years after burials, remains are routinely exhumated and stored in plastic bags to make room for more burials, which have increased amid the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

With the World Health Organization (WHO) recently labeling South America “effectively” the new hot spot for the pandemic, Brazil’s situation will only continue to deteriorate if more severe measures are not taken soon.


“Overall, the health system is still coping in Brazil, although, having said that, with the sustained number of severe cases that remains to be seen,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO’s chief of emergencies. “Clearly the health system in Brazil across the country needs significant support in order to sustain its effort in this regard.”

“But the data we have at the moment supports a system under pressure, but a system still coping with the number of severe cases.”

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Experts predict that the peak of Brazil’s pandemic will be in August, with efforts to contain the virus failing to prevent it from reaching the nation’s interior.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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