Rio de Janeiro — Covid-19 has left traces of death and despair in Brazil, one of the worst countries in the world. Now, one year after the pandemic, the country has set another record.
No other country has experienced such a large-scale outbreak and is still struggling to cope with a record number of deaths and a collapsed healthcare system. On the contrary, many other hard-hit countries are taking initial steps to normalize.
However, Brazil is fighting a more contagious variant that trampled on a major city and is spreading to other cities, even though Brazilians have given up precautions that can keep it safe.
The National Association of Health Secretaries said in a statement: “The intensification of the epidemic in the states is leading to the collapse of their public and private hospital systems, which may soon happen in every region of Brazil.” The lack of vaccine launches and the slow speed of the market still show that this situation will not be reversed in the short term.”
For Brazil and the world as a whole, this news has become even worse.
Preliminary studies have shown that the variants that swept Manaus are not only more infectious, but also seem to be able to infect people who have recovered from other versions of the virus. And this variant has slipped off the borders of Brazil, appearing in two other countries, and very few in the United States.
Although many vaccine trials have shown that they can prevent serious diseases even if they cannot prevent infection of this variant, most parts of the world have not yet been vaccinated. This means that even those who have recovered and believe that they are currently safe may still be in danger, and it may be too early for world leaders to lift restrictions again.
“You need a vaccine to prevent these things from happening,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University’s Tan Tyne School of Public Health, of the variant that can cause reinfection. “Due to the lack of space in the cemetery, your immunity is not enough to protect you.”
The danger of new variants has not disappeared from scientists all over the world. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pleaded with Americans this week not to let their guard down. “Please listen to me clearly,” she said. “In this case, the mutation continues to spread, and we will completely lose the hard-won basis that we have obtained.”
Brazilians hope they have seen the worst outbreak last year. Manaus, the capital of the northern Amazonian state, was hit so hard in April and May that scientists doubted whether the city might have achieved herd immunity.
But then in September, the state’s cases began to increase again, confusing health officials. Amazon Governor Wilson Lima’s attempt to impose a new quarantine before the Christmas holiday was strongly resisted by business owners and prominent politicians close to President Jair Bolsonaro.
By January, scientists discovered that a new variant, P.1, had already dominated the state. Within a few weeks, as the city’s hospitals ran out of oxygen in a large number of patients, the danger became obvious, resulting in dozens of people suffocating to death.
When Antonio Souza’s doctor and the patient’s relatives still bothered him with horrified expressions, the oxygen supply in his Manaus hospital was exhausted. When the oxygen was exhausted in another clinic, he thought of the patient he had treated with tranquilizers, lest she die in pain.
He said: “No one has to make this decision.” “It’s terrible.”
Maria Glaudimar, a nurse in Manaus, said that at the beginning of this year she had a nightmare with no end in sight. At work, patients and their relatives begged for oxygen, and all intensive care beds were full. At home, her son contracted Covid-19 and contracted tuberculosis, while her husband lost 22 pounds while battling the virus.
Ms. Gradymar said: “No one is prepared for this.” “This is a horror movie.”
Since then, the coronavirus crisis in Amazon state has eased, but it has intensified in most of Brazil.
Scientists are scrambling to learn more about the variant and track its distribution across the country. However, due to limited testing resources, they have been lagging behind when trying to determine the role of testing.
Anderson Brito, a Brazilian virologist at Yale University, said that the coronavirus genome sequenced in his laboratory alone is almost half of that of Brazil. The United States has performed genetic sequencing on one of 200 confirmed cases, while Brazil has performed genetic sequencing on about 1 of 3,000 cases.
The variant spread quickly. By the end of January, a study conducted by government researchers found that 91% of samples sequenced in the state of Amazonas contained this ingredient. By the end of February, health officials had reported cases of the P.1 variant in 21 of Brazil’s 26 states, but it would be difficult to estimate its prevalence without more testing.
Throughout the pandemic, researchers said that Covid-19 reinfection seems extremely rare, allowing people who have recovered to assume that they are immune at least temporarily. But before P.1 appeared, doctors and nurses started to notice some strange things.
João Alho, a doctor in Santarém, a city in the Amazon region, said that a colleague who recovered from Covid-19 a few months ago became sick again and tested positive.
Juliana Cunha, a nurse who has been in Rio de Janeiro, has been working at the Covid-19 testing center. She said she thought she was safe after contracting the virus in June last year. But in November, after experiencing mild symptoms, she tested positive again.
“I can’t believe it,” said the 23-year-old Ms. Kuna. “It must be a variant.”
However, unless the old and new samples are re-saved and genetically sequenced and compared, the status of the reinfected person cannot be determined.
One way to reduce vaccination is through vaccination, but like in many countries, promotion in Brazil is progressing slowly.
Brazil began vaccinating key populations in late January, including healthcare professionals and the elderly. But the government did not ensure a sufficient dose. Rich countries have snapped up most of the available supplies, and Mr. Bolsonaro has been skeptical about the impact of the disease and the vaccine.
According to the Ministry of Health, as of Tuesday, slightly more than 5.8 million Brazilians (about 2.6% of the population) have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Only about 1.5 million people received both doses. The country is currently using CoronaVac made in China (laboratory tests have shown that it is less effective on P.1 than on other variants), as well as CoronaVac made by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
Margareth Dalcolmo, a pulmonologist at the well-known scientific research center Fiocruz, said that Brazil’s failure to carry out a vigorous vaccination campaign laid the foundation for the current crisis.
She said: “We should vaccinate more than one million people every day.” “This is true. We are not, not because we don’t know how to do it, but because we don’t have enough vaccines.”
Ester Sabino, an infectious disease researcher at the University of São Paulo, said that other countries should also draw attention, and he is one of the leading experts in P.1 variants.
She said: “If a new variant appears in another part of the world, you can only vaccinate the entire population in a short time and control the problem.” “It will get there one day.”
Minister of Health Eduardo Pazuello (Eduardo Pazuello) called the virus a “new phase” of the pandemic. Last week, he said the government is stepping up its efforts and hopes to vaccinate about half of the population by June. Vaccine the rest of the population before the end of the year.
However, many Brazilians have a little confidence in the president’s government, and the president has broken the blockade, repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus, and promoted untested remedies long after scientists said it clearly didn’t work.
Just last week, the president spoke dismissively about masks, which are one of the best ways to curb infection, claiming that masks are harmful to children and cause headaches and inattention.
Mr. Pazuello’s vaccine prediction was also met with skepticism. The government placed an order for 20 million doses of the Indian vaccine last week, which has not yet completed clinical trials. This prompted federal prosecutors to argue in a legal document that the $286 million purchase of the transaction “puts millions of lives at risk.”
Even if it proves to be effective, it is too late for many people.
Tony Maquiné, a 39-year-old marketing expert from Manaus, lost a grandmother, an uncle, two aunts and a cousin in a few weeks of the recent surge in cases. He said that time has become increasingly blurred, and people are frantically looking for hospitals that can provide free beds for the living, while arranging funerals for the dead.
“It was a nightmare,” Mr. Maquinel said. “I am worried about what will happen in the future.”
Manuela Andreoni and Ernesto Londoño from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Letícia Casado from Brasilia. Carl Zimmer submitted the report from New Haven, Connecticut.