Brazil approaches the collapse of its public health system, with more than half of the country’s states at the limit of their capacity, while pressure grows for President Jair Bolsonaro to take drastic measures to contain the explosion of infections.
The Ministry of Health reported this Tuesday a new daily record of deaths associated with covid-19, with 1,641 deaths in the last 24 hours.
The country is experiencing its worst moment of the pandemic since the first contagion registered on February 26, 2020, also coinciding with the irruption of the Amazonian variant (P.1), more transmissible, according to preliminary studies.
Since November, the curve of cases and deaths has grown worryingly, but it has acquired dramatic tints in the last 40 days, a period during which the daily average of deaths has not dropped below a thousand.
Brazil is, along with the United States and India, one of the countries most affected by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, accounting for more than 257,000 deaths and 10.6 million cases, according to official data.
ICU to the limit in more than half of the country
If in the first wave the evolution of the pandemic in this country of continental dimensions and with 212 million inhabitants was heterogeneous, in this second, more virulent and lethal, SARS-CoV-2 has put more than half of the population in check. country at the same time.
The occupancy rate of intensive care units of the public health system exceeds 80% in 19 of the 27 Brazilian states, with a nuance: there are more and more young people with serious pictures.
“The risk of collapse exists and we are already observing it in several regions of the country,” doctor Carlos Starling, scientific consultant of the Brazilian Society of Infectious Diseases (SBI), told EFE.
After months of easing, regional and municipal governments have tightened distancing measures, such as the closure of non-essential businesses and night curfews, in order to avoid the collapse that occurred in January in Manaus, capital of the state of Amazonas.
More cases, but fewer beds
Amazonas, where the new variant emerged and whose hospital structure has been historically precarious, saw its health system overwhelmed in a matter of weeks. He even lacked oxygen. Since then, hundreds of COVID-19 patients have been transferred to other parts of the country to receive treatment.
Now, other states are on the way to that scenario, such as Santa Catarina and Minas Gerais, which have already had to transfer several of their patients to other regions of Brazil due to the lack of places in their hospitals.
“The outlook is not good. What we saw in Manaus we are certainly going to see in other regions of Brazil,” Starling warns.
The second wave also comes at a time when the number of intensive care beds financed by the Ministry of Health has been gradually reduced. Few field hospitals are still standing.
In December there were 12,003 ICU beds for COVID-19 financed by the Government; in January, 7,717, and in February, which ended as the second month with the most deaths from the disease in Brazil, 3,187, according to data from the National Council of Health Secretaries (Conass).
Increasing pressure on Bolsonaro
The entity, which brings together the 27 regional heads of health areas, demanded the day before the adoption of “immediate measures” at the national level to face “the worst moment of the health crisis,” including a night curfew , the closure of bars and beaches, and the suspension of face-to-face educational and sports activities.
President Bolsonaro, who refuses to acknowledge the severity of the pandemic and he is used to criticizing any type of restriction, he has not yet publicly echoed that call, but the vice president, Hamilton Mourao, has.
Mourao affirmed this Tuesday that “It does not work” to impose “something national” in a country as big as Brazil because it would be impossible to enforce it and the government, he said, is not a “dictatorship.”
He also declared that the population is “tired” of restrictions and opted to accelerate the vaccination campaign. However, immunization, which began in mid-January, is progressing slowly and to date only 3.2% of the population has received the first dose.
P.1 can dodge Coronavac antibodies
Specialists consulted by EFE believe that behind this explosion of cases and deaths may be the new variant P.1, present in at least 17 of the 27 states of the country. In the last week, three preliminary studies have been published that warn of the dangerousness of this new lineage, which seems to be more transmissible, infects with a viral load up to ten times higher, and is capable of bypassing the antibodies generated by a previously infected person.
In addition, scientists from the University of Sao Paulo (USP) and the University of Campinas (Unicamp) suggested that P.1 can escape the antibodies generated by a vaccine developed from the inactivated virus, such as that of the Chinese laboratory Sinovac, known as Coronavac, the most used in Brazil.
“That means that five months after vaccination, the person could become infected again, but will not necessarily develop the disease, since the antibodies produced are not the only protective factor of the vaccine,” José Luiz Proença Modena, professor, told EFE. Virology Department of Unicamp and coordinator of the research, supported by the Foundation for Amparo a la Pesquisa de Sao Paulo (FAPESP).
The results were obtained from a small sample of eight patients who received both doses of the Chinese immunizer during clinical trials of the formula and have yet to be verified by other members of the scientific community.