The new strain of the deadly disease is known in South America’s largest country as P-1. According to Reuters, the new outbreak has “a unique combination of mutations and has within a few weeks, become the dominant form of COVID in Brazil”.
Brazil, with a population of 211 million, so far has the world’s second-highest coronavirus death toll, at more than 250,000 — second only to that of the United States, which had recorded 312,000 fatalities as of March 2.
As Domingos Alves, director of the Health Intelligence Laboratory in Sao Paulo puts it: “In this scenario, if nothing is done within a few days, people will be fighting for hospital beds throughout Brazil, and we are going to have to open new graveyards to bury the deceased.”
P-1 was first identified in Manaus, northern Brazil, early last December. Dr. Nunio Faria, an internationally-known virus specialist at Imperial College in London, says it’s too early to assess how effective existing vaccines will be against this new variant.
IS P-1 A GLOBAL RISK?
“On December 6 when the initial case was diagnosed,” Dr. Faria added, “our Brazilian colleagues and we looked at how rapidly P-1 overtook other versions of the disease and found that P-1 grew from zero to 87 percent in about eight weeks.”On March 2, Brazil’s Health Ministry posted a single-day record for all COVID deaths — including the latest version — at 1,641 citizens, the highest until then.The Washington Post’s Terrence McCoy, in a dispatch from Rio de Janeiro March 2, summed up the crisis in a gripping two-paragraph lead:
“The senior health official looked into the TV camera, eyes wide. He had a message for those Brazilians who wouldn’t stop partying, wouldn’t wear a mask, wouldn’t take the coronavirus seriously.
“We have no ICU beds for your mother”, Rondonia State Health Secretary Fernando Maximo said. “We have no ICU beds for your father, your aunt, your son, your girlfriend. We have no ICU beds for YOU.”
REGIONAL IMPLICATIONS OF P-1 IN BRAZIL
Reuters, in an update, reported that Brazil’s COVID-19 variant has now been found in at least 20 countries. Specialists both in Brazil and abroad say that this variant can re-infect people who previously recovered from the disease.
When COVID-10 initially was reported in Brazil last year, also in Manaus, it struck urban areas first, then spread to the countryside. That, according to Post correspondent McCoy, “was a crucial break for Brazil. Health care is heavily concentrated in the state capitals. So by the time people from rural communities began flooding city hospitals, the facilities had time to regroup after the initial surge of urban citizens in need of treatment.
“But mass gatherings during the country’s November elections, then the holiday parties and finally, Carnival last month — pushed medical systems to the brink. As Duke University epidemiologist Miguel Nicolelis put it: “Brazil could be the epicenter of more lethal and infectious variants of COVID. That’s what makes it a key development for the entire planet.”
Brazilian President Jair Bolonsaro, from the beginning, has urged Brazilians to “all but ignore” the crisis. As the Post’s Terrence McCoy put it: “Bolonsaro has tried recently to minimize the shortage of hospital beds, criticized new restrictions being imposed by local leaders in Brazil, and fretted about the side effects of using masks to prevent the spread of the disease. “Masks could harm children,” the president asserted last week.
WORLDWIDE TOTAL CASUALTIES
As of March 3, the total COVID-19 death toll globally passed 2.5 million, according to the World Health Organization. Brazil had the third-largest number of reported deaths, after the United States and India. How to arrest the plague remains a huge challenge, given unexpected new strains as reflected in Brazil’s experience.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More