The pandemic is rampant in Brazil, which this Tuesday had more deaths than any other day: 3,251 deaths in 24 hours. Every 100 Brazilians who are infected with covid right now spread the disease to another 123 people, according to data from the Imperial College London quoted on the main evening news. The intense transmission – accelerated by the Brazilian variant, more contagious – has caused an avalanche of seriously ill patients that have led to the collapse of ICUs in a good part of the territory. And scientists fear that Brazil is becoming an incubator for new variants and strains. The WHO demands firmness from the federal government and to coordinate with Congress and the Judiciary while neighboring countries take measures to protect themselves, such as suspending flights or trying to raise an epidemiological barrier.
The Pan American Health Organization, the regional affiliate of the WHO, warned this week through its president, Carissa Etienne, that the coronavirus is advancing “dangerously” in Brazil, the epicenter of the pandemic in the world. “Unfortunately, the serious situation in Brazil is affecting neighboring countries,” he stressed and mentioned the increase in cases in the border regions of Venezuela, Peru and Bolivia. The South American giant borders seven other countries. Almost all of them register an increase in cases per million, according to the recuento de Our World in Data.
Three Brazilian states (Acre, Rondonia and Rio Grande do Sul) do not have a single free UCI position. And more than half have 90% of the places occupied due to the avalanche of patients in recent weeks. The outlook has no signs of improving in the short term. The doctor Margareth Dalcomo, from Fiocruz, warns in statements to O’Globo that “April can be even worse than March” in Brazil. The reason is a cocktail of factors: “The high transmission rate, the number of cases among the youngest, the slow rate of vaccination due to a shortage of vaccines, mortality, the depletion of toilets, and the saddest thing, because of the body count”. Only now has President Jair Bolsonaro announced the creation of a crisis cabinet under pressure from Congress and economists.
Brazil surpassed the threshold of 300,000 dead on Wednesday. With 210 million inhabitants, it has an accumulated rate per million that at the moment places it behind the US or Spain, but it is closing distances at full speed. And the 50,000 infections that he adds every day are priming a ticking bomb.
Virologist José Eduardo Levi explains to the Brazilian magazine Look. “Mutations can occur anywhere, but when there are no favorable conditions for their proliferation, they disappear. Unfortunately that is not the case in Brazil ”. The virus circulates rapidly among Brazilians because part of the population, including President Bolsonaro, does not maintain the basic measures of social isolation and a mask, which allows the virus to circulate freely and give birth to new variants.
Several neighboring countries have detected the Brazilian variant in their territories, which is so named because Japan detected it in a traveler arriving from Manaus, and they have adopted measures to protect themselves. P1 is more contagious than the original strain and attacks youngsters with greater virulence. And to make matters worse, some people who already had coronavirus have been reinfected.
In Venezuela, daily infections have increased to double since the middle of this month. And that there is a notable under-notification due to the limited capacity to make diagnoses. With Brazil turned into a threat, it is the neighbor that has taken the most forceful measures. This week the Venezuelan government decreed the confinement of the entire country, so that only essential workers in the health and food sector can take to the streets. The measure was implemented three weeks after the Brazilian variant was detected in three border states.
President Nicolás Maduro, who has come to blame Brazil and Colombia for sending those infected to his country to deliberately spread the disease, accuses Bolsonaro, “an irresponsible person”, of causing this second wave. And he warned Venezuelans: “We have a border with them and that variant has arrived. Everything depends on you … you have to take care of yourself ”. The authorities have also reopened quarantine shelters and house-to-house rounds to detect infections have been reactivated.
Colombia and Peru have suspended flights with Brazil as a precautionary measure. Peruvians only allow the charter of humanitarian flights to repatriate citizens. The others not even that.
The Colombian authorities have also canceled the internal air connection with Leticia, the main Amazonian city in the country. And, in order to build a kind of epidemiological wall against the new variant, they have also advanced vaccination in several Amazonian departments – jungle and sparsely populated – with the shipment of 40,000 doses of the immunizing Sinovac. They intend to contain the spread of infections to the rest of the country. Health authorities have not confirmed for the moment the presence of the Brazilian variant in their territory, despite speculations mayors such as those of Bogotá and Medellín.
Chile, which does not have a border with Brazil, instead maintains flights with that country (and other destinations) but with a counterpart. New arrivals by plane, especially those from Brazil, must remain quarantined for 72 hours in a transit hotel even if they have a recent negative PCR. If they later test negative again, they have to do 10 days of mandatory quarantine at their home address. The extra costs have to be borne by the traveler.
Argentina has eliminated part of the flights abroad, not only with Brazil. And it will begin to charge tourists for PCRs and consider that those who test positive should quarantine in a hotel that they pay for themselves. The Government is studying new measures to curb infections, but will announce them over the weekend so as not to spoil the Mercosur summit scheduled for this Friday in virtual format.
The entry of the Manaus variant in Peru is confirmed. And it is known that it was through Caballococha, on the triple border with Brazil and Colombia. Health authorities have attributed the speed of transmission to the Brazilian and South African variants.
The Uruguayan authorities have closed public services and suspended face-to-face classes in schools. And Paraguay, which is studying to decree a national quarantine on the occasion of Holy Week, has confirmed this Wednesday the first two infected by the Brazilian variant. The Paraguayan Minister of Health, Julio Borba, has warned that the transmission is already community-based because one of the infected “is a young man who never traveled and works in housework.”
With information from Florantonia Singer (Caracas), Santiago Torrado (Bogotá), Rocío Montes (Santiago), Federico Rivas Molina (Buenos Aires), Jaqueline Fowks (Lima), Santi Carnieri (Asunción).
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.