The South African government initiated the lockdown on March 27 as a measure to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, about 500 Brazilians who were in the country did not know for sure how to return home. Brazilian journalist Larissa Carvalho, who worked in Johannesburg at the beginning of the pandemic, was one of those people.
In conversation with our team, she remembers how her journey back home was, which was supported by the Brazilian embassy. “It was a long time to wait and everyone was eager to return home”, she reveals. She also compares the measures adopted by the South African government with the Brazilian government’s strategies to contain contagion with the new coronavirus.
ATLANTICO – When did you plan your return?
Larissa Carvalho – I didn’t plan my return desperately. My choice, at that moment when I learned that the pandemic crisis had increased, was to try to stay calm and wait for what would come next with regard to the positioning of the airlines and the South African government. When I heard about the first case of coronavirus in South Africa – on March 6th – life went on as it was. I kept going to the newspaper where I was working as a freelance reporter. Days later – March 13th – I went to the season premiere of a ballet show. The following week, the ballet season was canceled due to the crisis that was beginning to spread across the country. So, I witnessed the cancellation of several cultural activities in Johannesburg until the president declared the lockdown. My return was scheduled for April 7, but all flights were being canceled. So what I did was prepare to be quarantined where I was, stay calm, talk to my family, seek support from my closest friends and wait for what the airline and government would say in the next few days.
ATLANTICO – What guidelines did you receive?
Larissa Carvalho – My editor asked me to work from home, as well as the other reporters and other employees of the newspaper. But that was a week before the lockdown. What I realized from my experience in South Africa is that many people prioritized health and obeyed measures of social isolation to prevent further contamination.
ATLANTICO – Has the Brazilian government contacted you?
Larissa Carvalho – The Brazilian Embassy in South Africa, located in the city of Pretoria, was the one who contacted me and other Brazilians. They started disseminating information through social networks. With the lockdown, more than 500 Brazilians were retained, in the situation of repatriation, since all flights were canceled.
ATLANTICO – How was the contact with the other Brazilians who were there?
Larissa Carvalho – I had met Brazilians when I went to study English in Cape Town. They were held there and I was in Johannesburg. We got together and created groups on Whatsapp to be able to stay in contact and communicate with the Embassy, which also created a group.
ATLANTICO – How was the situation there when you left? What was the general climate like?
Larissa Carvalho – Deserted streets, everyone inside the house. You couldn’t really go out or stay on the sidewalk because the police were arresting them. People obeyed much more than here. It was another aspect that I noticed when making a comparison in general with Brazil. People are respecting you more.
ATLANTICO – How was your return?
Larissa Carvalho – My return was very difficult and tiring. I didn’t want to go back because I loved that place and it felt great there. Even in this pandemic issue, I felt safer there than here, since their people do obey social isolation, despite the fact that the cases have increased. The Embassy bus came to pick me up very early to take all the Brazilians in Johannesburg to the airport. It was not possible to go to the airport on your own. The flight would only be at 3 pm, with a stopover at 6.10 pm in Cape Town. We take off after 4pm. Everyone was looking forward to going home. After a little more than 8 hours of flight, we arrived in São Paulo. In short, I was able to return home because the Brazilian government paid for this special repatriation flight. If it weren’t for that, I was still stuck in South Africa.
ATLANTICO – Do you intend to return?
Larissa Carvalho – I intend to go back! That country is really amazing and it rocked my spirit and heart too much. I feel like I have to go back and I will be back!