Monica Piccinini reports on the increasing infection and death rates in Brazil from new Coronavirus variants and the lack of Government action

Brazil’s tragic and growing COVID-19 death toll has made headlines across the world, with the total number of lives lost to COVID-19 reaching 368,749. The country has recorded close to 14 million infections and, in terms of confirmed cases, it ranks third globally, only behind the US and India.

Even more worrying, it is forecasted that infection and death rates will increase further in the next month as President Jair Bolsonaro’s Government continues to fail to get a grip on the Coronavirus pandemic.

The country is facing a perfect storm of COVID mutations and a Coronavirus-denying President.

Brazil is the only country in the world that currently faces a mutant strain that has developed from a combination of variants first identified in the Philippines and Brazil. President Bolsonaro has refused to promote mask-wearing and has defended the use of ineffective drugs. The populist authoritarian has refused to adopt lockdown and social distancing measures in order to curb the spread of the virus and failed to develop a vaccination strategy for the country.

This has led to an overwhelmed health system which, in many areas, no longer has any intensive care unit (ICU) beds available. Reports of people dying waiting to get an ICU bed have been widespread. So many people are dying that they are not even being prepared properly for burial.

“Brazil has its doors open to the virus and its mutations,” Jesem Orellana, an epidemiologist at Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, told Byline Times. “Mutations are expected, as they happen in a random way and are the result of a bigger viral circulation.

“The Federal Government has made countless mistakes, including the lack of governance with no experience of public health and health emergencies, and the fact they did not take adequate precautions to contain the virus and made no effort to set out an efficient vaccination plan.”

The COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil has not merely been confined to adults. According to the Brazilian Ministry of Health, between February 2020 and March 2021, 852 children up to the age of 9 and 518 babies died of the Coronavirus (conservative estimates due to under-reporting, as some doctors are still reluctant to test young children).

Dr Fatima Marinho, a senior advisor to the international health NGO Vital Strategies, estimates that the virus has in fact killed 2,060 children under the age of 9 in Brazil, including 1,302 babies.

The healthcare team of a hospital located in Bento Gonçalves, Rio Grande do Sul, told Byline Times that, in early March, they identified a series of young patients with a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 whose condition had worsened. When they sent 11 samples for analysis, nine of the cases had new variants, demonstrating how worrying these mutations are for young people.

Attempts have been made by local governors and mayors to contain the spread of the virus by promoting social distancing, mask-wearing and local lockdowns. But their efforts are ultimately thwarted as any actions restricting the movement of people can only be decreed by the President with the approval of Congress.

Bolsonaro has called the governors “poor” and “petty” for defending measures to contain the virus. “There is no way for you to live without a job and without an economy,” he declared. “And the mediocre ones lack this vision. São Paulo is a state that has suffered a lot from this. We hope that everything will return to normal as soon as possible. Only in this way can Brazil walk on its own legs.”

With no lockdowns and a vaccination programme that has only reached 13% of the adult population, infections, deaths and deadly variants can only increase. This is not just a tragedy for Brazil, but also for the rest of the world – as new variants in the country today spread to others tomorrow.

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