Coronavirus figures released by health authorities across South America on Monday show a number of countries grappling with a spike in infections and deaths.
Uruguay and Paraguay registered record numbers of daily deaths, while the total number of Covid cases surpassed the 13-million mark in Brazil. The surge has been attributed to the spread of the Brazil variant. The variant is thought to be more than twice as transmissible as the original.
What is the Brazil variant?
Brazilian public health institute Fiocruz says it has detected 92 variants of coronavirus in the country. Experts say that the development of new variants is not surprising: all viruses mutate as they make copies of themselves to spread.
The P.1, or Brazil, variant has become a cause for concern is because it is thought to be much more contagious than the original strain.
P.1 was first detected in travellers to Japan from the city of Manaus, in the Brazilian Amazon, and sequenced in early January.
It has mutations on the spike protein, that part of the virus which attaches to human cells, and it is these mutations which are thought to make it more transmissible.
The variant is thought to have emerged in Amazonas state in November 2020, spreading quickly in the state capital Manaus, where it accounted for 73% of cases by January 2021, according to figures analysed by researchers in Brazil.
Preliminary data suggested it could be up to twice as infectious as the original strain, while more recent research puts that figure even higher, at 2.5 times as transmissible.
How widespread is it?
As genetic sequencing is not widespread throughout the region, it is hard to determine how widely the variant has spread. However, the risk has always been deemed high, as Brazil shares borders with 10 countries.
On 25 March, Peru‘s health minister said that 40% of cases in the capital, Lima, were caused by the Brazil variant, and on Monday he said that cases had been detected “almost everywhere in Peru”.
Cases of the variant have also been confirmed in Uruguay and Paraguay, both of which registered record numbers of daily deaths on Monday.
In Paraguay, health officials said that half of the cases on the border with Brazil were caused by the variant.
Bolivia has also registered cases of the variant and last week ordered the closure of its border with Brazil for at least a week, with a lockdown ordered for the border regions where the cases occurred.
Venezuela‘s President Nicolás Maduro has also blamed a recent spike in cases and deaths on the spread of the Brazil variant.
In Argentina, health officials have also confirmed the presence of the variant. However, doctors said on Monday that genome sequencing suggested that President Alberto Fernández, who tested positive for Covid on Saturday, did not contract one of the new variants.
And while vaccination is going ahead speedily in Chile and Uruguay, it has been slow in many other countries of the region.
The director of the Pan-American Health Organization, Carissa Etienne, has warned that the situation constitutes “an active public health emergency”.
Brazil: Hospitals Overwhelmed as Virus Kills 4,000 in a Day
SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil reported a 24-hour tally of COVID-19 deaths exceeding 4,000 for the first time Tuesday, becoming the third nation to go above that daily threshold.
Many governors, mayors and judges are reopening parts of the economy despite lingering chaos in overcrowded hospitals and a collapsed health system in several parts of the country.
Brazil’s health ministry said 4,195 deaths were counted in the previous 24 hours, with the nation’s pandemic toll quickly approaching 340,000, the second highest in the world. Only the U.S. and Peru have had daily death tolls higher than 4,000.
Sao Paulo state, Brazil’s most populous with 46 million residents, registered almost 1,400 deaths in the latest count. Health officials said the figure was partly due to the Easter holiday, which delayed the count.
Local authorities nationwide argue that numbers of cases and hospitalizations are trending downward after a week of a partial shutdown.
Miguel Lago, executive director of Brazil’s Institute for Health Policy Studies, which advises public health officials, said reopening is a mistake that he fears will bring even higher death numbers, though he thinks it unlikely to be reversed.
“The fact is the anti-lockdown narrative of President Jair Bolsonaro has won,” Lago told The Associated Press. “Mayors and governors are politically prohibited from beefing up social distancing policies because they know supporters of the president, including business leaders, will sabotage it.”
Bolsonaro, who has long downplayed the risks of the coronavirus, remains fully against lockdowns as damaging to the economy.
COVID-19 patients are using more than 90% of beds in intensive care unit in most Brazilian states, though figures have been stable since the past week. Still, hundreds are dying as they wait for care and basic supplies such as oxygen and sedatives are running out in several states.
Less than 3% of Brazil’s 210 million people have received both doses of coronavirus vaccines, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.
Over the weekend, justices of Brazil’s Supreme Court started a tug of war about the reopening of religious buildings, which were closed by many local authorities despite a federal government decision to label them as part of essential services.
Some churches welcomed their faithful on Easter Sunday, but others were stopped by mayors and governors. Their reopening will be settled at the high court Wednesday, but some local councils, such as Belo Horizonte, voted Tuesday to keep religious buildings open.
Also on Tuesday a Rio de Janeiro judge allowed schools to reopen as Mayor Eduardo Paes wanted. Hours later, the mayors of Campinas and Sorocaba, two of the most populous cities in Sao Paulo state, agreed to reopen business with a drive-thru purchase system after a 10-day halt.
Professional soccer executives in Sao Paulo said they expect to play games this week after a 15-day interruption, promising local prosecutors they will follow stricter health protocols.