As a variant of the coronavirus traced to the Brazilian Amazon prowled Peru’s coastal capital last month, Rommel Heredia rushed to his local hospital to seek help for his brother, mother and father.
“I said goodbye and promised that I would come back to take them home,” said the 47-year-old physical education teacher, his voice muffled by two black masks that covered his face tightly.
Heredia could not keep his promise. Three days later, his 52-year-old brother, Juan Carlos, passed away while waiting for a bed in intensive care at the Rebagliati public hospital in Lima. The next day he lost his 80-year-old mother, Vilma, who suffered a fatal brain inflammation that doctors attributed to Covid-19. Four days later his father, Jorge, passed away.
“The truth is that the pain is too great. I can’t accept it, ”Heredia said on Sunday as Peru suffered its hardest day of Covid losses and fears mounted about how the new variants could have rejuvenated the pandemic that has already killed more than 3 million people worldwide.
Similar feelings of disbelief and despair are being expressed throughout Latin America as the seemingly more contagious P1 variant linked to Brazil further worsens the already devastating Covid crisis. Almost 1 million Latin American lives have been lost here since the first Covid case was detected in the region in February 2020, and the pandemic is now accelerating again in countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, and Uruguay, and many. they are convinced that the Brazilian variant is largely to blame.
“The Brazilian variant has reached practically all regions,” said the Minister of Health of Peru, Óscar Ugarte, warned in early April, when his country plunged into the deadliest phase of what was already one of the worst outbreaks on Earth.
Ester Sabino, a Brazilian scientist who is tracking the spread of the P1 variant, said phylogenetic analysis suggests it emerged in the second half of November somewhere near Manaus, a riverside metropolis in the Brazilian Amazon. Weeks later, Manaus made headlines around the world after its hospitals were overwhelmed by a sudden flood of patients for whom they were catastrophically unprepared. “What we are seeing is a total massacre,” a local health worker told The Guardian at the time, as hospitals ran out of oxygen and patients suffocated.
Until the collapse of Manaus, which coincided with the emergence of similar variants in England and South Africa, Sabino was hopeful that the outbreak in Brazil could be gradually brought under control in 2021, as vaccination picked up pace. But the authorities failed to isolate the city and stop the spread of the variant.
In February, Araraquara, a city 1,500 miles south in the state of São Paulo, had been forced to close by an explosion of P1-related infections. Hospitals in Brazil reported being awash with Covid patients, many disturbingly young, and the death toll in Brazil nearly doubled, from just over 195,000 in early January to 380,000 now. In March, the variant, which has now been detected in eight South American countries, was also invading Brazil’s neighbors: sweeping west into the Peruvian Amazon, leaping over the Andes, and besieging Lima, more than 1,300 miles to the west. southwest of Manaus. .
“It is not only a much more contagious variant, but it also increases the levels of reinfection, which reduces the effectiveness of vaccines,” said Antonio Quispe, a Peruvian epidemiologist who said that the “rapid and violent” spread of P1 was a dire news for the region.
Fearing that some new variants could circumvent the vaccine’s protection, governments have tightened travel restrictions and closed borders. France recently suspended all flights to Brazil as a result of what Prime Minister Jean Castex called its “absolutely dramatic” epidemic.
“Europeans are right to fear what is happening in Brazil,” said Marcos Boulos, an infectious disease specialist at the University of São Paulo, who said that uncontrolled outbreaks like the one in Brazil provide the ideal breeding ground for variants. . “The more transmission there is, the more variants appear … The situation is very, very serious,” said Boulos.
This week, the British government added India, which is witnessing a fierce increase in cases, to its travel red list amid growing concern about variant B.1.617 found there. A world record of 314,835 infections was reported there on Thursday, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi compared the crisis to a storm.
Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian scientist who has become one of the most outspoken critics of President Jair Bolsonaro’s Covid denialist response, said the government’s inaction had helped turn Latin America’s most populous nation into a global threat from coronavirus. “Brazil is like a brewery and is brewing left, right and center variants,” Nicolelis said, warning that while some mutations could hamper the virus’s ability to spread, others could make it even more transmissible or deadly. .
Nicolelis said the situation in India, which has 1.3 billion citizens, a population almost seven times that of Brazil, is even more worrying. “Things can happen even faster there. They are paving the way for an explosion of mutations … It’s scary, ”he said, calling for a comprehensive vaccination and sequencing strategy to address the problem.
“Countries like Brazil and India cannot be treated as global outcasts and abandoned. They need help, because it’s not just their problem, it’s the world’s problem, ”Nicolelis said, adding that a similar lack of control from Covid had also spawned the B117 variant in the UK.
Heredia was not sure which variant had been responsible for the murder of his family, although the government has said that 40% of the cases in Lima are now related to P1. But he had no doubts about the scale of the calamity affecting his country, where a record 433 deaths last Sunday brought Peru’s official total to more than 57,000.
“There are 30 patients [in the queue for ICU] before your brother and they are giving priority to the youngest patients, ”Heredia recalled that a doctor told him after his brother was admitted on the third Friday in March. Juan Carlos never made it out of the emergency room, where he died three days later from complications of pneumonia and pneumothorax.
“People are dying because they can’t get beds in the ICU,” Heredia said. “This is like war.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism