Brazil’s Catastrophic Management of COVID-19 Threatens the Entire World

Yves here. The headline is hyperventilating, since “humanity” does not equal “the entire world” but the piece does substantiate the claim that Brazil’s refusal to do much of anything about Covid is a train wreck that puts other countries at risk.

By DemocraciaAbierta, the global platform that publishes voices from Latin America and beyond in Spanish, Portuguese and English, connecting them to the global debate of openDemocracy. Twitter: @demoAbierta. Originally published at openDemocracy

The world is nearing the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel thanks to the effectiveness of mobility restriction, social distancing, usage of masks and the start of massive vaccination campaigns. However, there is a black hole on the planet, and its name is Brazil.

To add on top of the catastrophic denialism of President Jair Bolsonaro in the face of the virus, comes the variant that emerged in the state of Amazonas in northern Brazil, which has put the country – and the world – at risk. This development also provides lessons about COVID-19 and the crucial importance of taking epidemics seriously.

Known as P.1, the variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is not only more contagious, but preliminary studies suggest that it is also capable of infecting people who have already recovered from other versions of the virus.

The variant is believed to have emerged amid the chaos in Manaus, the most affected city, in terms of proportion, in the country with the world’s second highest COVID-19 death toll. And it is not all a coincidence.

Brazil is experiencing its most deadly period since it registered its first case in February last year. On 9 March, the country reported 1,954 deaths in 24 hours, the worst figure since the pandemic began. The situation in hospitals is cataclysmic, with ICU bed occupancy in 17 cities already at 100%.

Bolsonaro’s administration is largely responsible for all of this chaos, which has killed 270,000 Brazilians. As Robert Muggah of the Igarapé Institute has argued, his denialism in the face of the severity of the disease and inability to curb the outbreak, along with his anti-vaccine crusade, goes beyond creating a national tragedy – it has produced a global threat.

A Breeding Ground for New Variants

Political scientists are not only blaming Bolsonaro’s incompetence and resistance to handling the pandemic for Brazil’s current crisis. In an interview with The Guardian, neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis from Duke University argues that the international community must intervene to put pressure on the Brazilian government for its inability to act.

Nicolelis explained that the situation in Brazil has created the perfect storm for variants. The virus has been given free reign to reproduce at levels that drive up the possibility of mutations thanks to its president denying its existence and questioning the usage of masks – even on one of the country’s highest mortality days.

“If the virus is allowed to proliferate as it is now, it opens the door to the appearance of new mutations and the emergence of even more lethal variants,” Nicolelis said.

“What is the point of controlling the pandemic in Europe or the United States if Brazil continues to be a breeding ground for this virus? Brazil is an open-air laboratory for the virus to proliferate and end up creating more lethal mutations. This is about the world. It is global.”

Slow Vaccination Campaign

Another aggravating situation in Brazil is the slowness of vaccination campaigns. Figures from this week show that the country has vaccinated just over 8 million people, equivalent to 4% of the population. According to specialists, at this rate it would take Brazil four years to reach collective immunity.

At a recent meeting, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) criticised the slow pace of the vaccination campaigns throughout Latin America, warning about the risks of more resistant variants emerging.

This occurs, among other reasons, because contact between people who have received the vaccine encourages the emergence of “super-potent” mutations capable of evading the action of the immuniser, according to researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Leicester. For this reason, the researchers say it is imperative to combine vaccination plans with shutdowns and other measures to contain the virus.

In Brazil, this slowness is compounded by variants such as the E484k mutation that evades antibodies and high levels of contagion due to the lack of preventive measures. Since January, several countries have closed their borders to Brazil to prevent the arrival of dangerous variants.

Tragic Results of Misrule

From the start of the pandemic, Bolsonaro insisted that his country could not stop due to a “little cold”, claiming that the economic consequences would be worse. However, he clearly miscalculated the true cost.

As this article in Valor Econômico, Brazil’s largest financial newspaper, outlines, the federal government’s delay in ordering COVID-19 vaccines has cost Brazil’s stock exchange, best known as Ibovespa, about 13,000 points, or 10%.

“The root of our problem, what affected us the most this year, was the mismanagement of the vaccination,”said Ronaldo Patah, a market strategists at UBS Wealth Management. “If the government had closed deals back there, the Ibovespa would have been near the peak, at 125,000 points, and not at 112,000 points.”

Last year, the Brazilian government rejected a proposal from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer to supply 70 million doses of vaccines. The health ministry claimed that it had taken this decision to avoid falling into a “marketing” scheme involving the vaccine producers.

Patah said that if the government had purchased the doses back in September last year, Brazil could currently be vaccinating at a rate similar to that of the United States.

Although Bolsonaro cannot be held responsible for the entire complex process of virus mutation and the development of a pandemic unprecedented in modern history, it is more than evident that his government could have contained the worsening situation through the implementation of simple measures that proved to be effective in many countries.

However, his ultra-conservative idea that the economic consequences of restrictive measures would be worse than the deaths of citizens revealed his absolute disregard for the popular classes, as well as strong structural racism.

The conviction, so far ratified by the polls, that whatever is done the majority will continue to vote for him, makes Bolsonaro feel supported in his lethal policy.

But neither the country nor the world can wait for the next election to see a change in the Brazilian government’s attitude. Only coordinated international pressure can ensure that dangerous new variants are curbed and thousands of lives are saved, not only in Brazil, but worldwide.

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  1. thoughtful person

    When we look at the successful countries in covid19 response, we see that globally there is a range and while Brazil is toward the bottom for sure, plenty of other countries have failures to some extent and plenty of also deadly variants have emerged in those populations as well.

    Looking to the future, the imperial college drs quote is of interest. We must as a human race, prevent as much spread of the virus as possible. It’s not vaccines vs variants, but how we use the vaccines, and it should be as another layer of (swiss cheese) protection.

    Here in Virginia it feels like nearly everyone thinks that the pandemic is just about over. Went to Trader Joes grocery yesterday with my double masks and glasses. That chain had been good in controlling the number of shoppers at a time in the store. Well, it was packed!. No more lines to get in, as we Reopen. At least masks still required. New UK variant is here. We’ll soon see if tossing layers of protections now is a smart move. If the Imperial college dr is right, the “tail” of the pandemic will be long.

    1. polar donkey

      Here in Memphis, health department is lifting almost all guidelines next week. It is worrying since many people haven’t gotten their shots and there were still 62,000 cases Thursday in US. Additionally, a friend told me a disturbing story. A lady she knows got covid, her husband took care of her but became sick as well. The lady has recovered while her husband is very sick and on a ventilator, yet he has tested negative for covid. What does he have?

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Perhaps a newer new variant of covid whose variance takes the form of cloaking against the prevailing tests, to which it is invisible?

    2. XXYY

      New cases in the US are just now starting to get below last summer’s peak.

      This means that what we have been doing is working! It is not a signal to stop doing these things.

      If traffic collisions go down at a deadly intersection following the installation of stop signs, it doesn’t mean the stop signs can now be removed!

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        The people who agree with you and understand your point will have to figure out a way to air-gap themselves from the Mask Rebel Freedom death cultists who burn masks in ritual cleansing fires. Hopefully that could be done at the level of whole States or at least defensible regions.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    A Brazilian translator friend of mine of Asian ancestry moved home this time last year from where she was living in southern Europe because she was afraid of anti-Asian feeling due to outbreak. She quickly changed her mind and moved back to Europe when she realised what an almighty mess Bolsonaro was creating. She is now worried about anti-Brazilian feelings as people now fear they are bearers of new variants. This is a particular fear in Europe as there are huge numbers of young Brazilians living in many countries either legally or illegally. There have already been cases of the new Brazilian variant being intercepted by checks at airports in Dublin and London.

    We can only hope for the sake of Brazil and everyone else that Lula avoids the bullet that many Bolsonaro supporters will hope gets him before the next election.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Hopefully clever digital artists will figure out how to combo-morph the faces of Mugabe and Bolsonaro into one combination face. They could call the morph-portrait Bolsogabe or maybe Mugabesonaro.

  3. Dwight

    The emergence of mutations from contact between vaccinated individuals discussed on this article sounds like what Geert Vanden Bossche is warning may happen. He says that prophylactic vaccine during pandemic could lead to immune escape and deadly strains for which vaccines are ineffective. It’s not clear to me how speeding up vaccination would solve this problem if it exists, or why it would only happen in Brazil. Scary stuff on which I’m not qualified to opine, but Vanden Bossche appears to be well qualified, so I wonder if he is raising valid concern.

    1. Dwight

      There’s been pushback against Vanden Bossche’s claims about how antibodies work so I regret bringing him up. Pls delete these comments if not useful. Still I wonder whether leaky vaccine or immune escape is an issue.

      1. QuicksilverMessenger

        Yes, I’ve seen this person’s open letter to the WHO, re-tweeted by a number of people. I don’t really know anything about virology etc., but something about what he is saying (or how he is saying) is highly suspicious to me. My BS detector was activated. Here is his open letter. Please anyone who can help us debunking this person (if this is what is warranted), please post. He seems to be getting traction.
        I wanted to comment on a lot of these twitter threads but I don’t think I really know enough to do so.

        His basic claim as far as I can read is that the current vaccines are actually dangerous in a viral pandemic; something about viral immune escape. Huh?

      2. Skeptic_in_Oz

        You were thinking there would be no push back against what he was saying? That the people promoting this pandemic narrative and the untested experimental “vaccines” being foisted upon the public using an intense propaganda campaign and threats would just let what he is saying go into the record unchallenged?

      3. jonswift

        Thanks for your info on Bossche. I just watched a youtube interview of him. In a nutshell, Bossche says one should not be giving a prophylactic vaccine to people in the middle of a pandemic. The vaccine will compete with your natural immunity and cause it to no longer work against other viruses.

  4. DJG, Reality Czar

    Just as Trump cultivated evangelical Christian sense of grievance and specialness in the U S of A, Bolsonaro has cultivated Brazil’s U.S.-knockoff evangelical churches.

    So we see two responses that point to the continuing crisis of monotheism.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      A crisis in monotheism generally? Including Catholicism, MainLine Protestantism, MainLine Judaisim, MainLine Islam, etc.?

      Or only a crisis in Rapturanian Armageddonism specifically?

  5. Susan the other

    I thought last fall when cases of covid took off exponentially just when it looked like we were over the hump that the variants from England and Brazil had been responsible. I’m still wondering if the huge spike we had from last fall until last month aren’t responsible for this. It looks to me like what is commonly called “the second wave” of a pandemic. I haven’t heard anything about testing done to determine specific antibodies for the new variants. Is anyone anywhere showing specific antibodies for the Brazilian P-1 variant? Are they testing for it in Brazil?

    1. Ian Ollmann

      There isn’t any need for special explanations. The virus will come and go like a sinusoid as long as humans continue to cling to the hope of opening up before vaccination. It will be back every 4-6 months over and over and over, with each new relaxation of measures. New mutants probably make it worse, but the real problem is human behavior.

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