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How Brazil responded to its new Covid variant

Scientists left helpless in effort to track spread of more infectious strain

Located deep in the Amazon rainforest, Manaus was on the frontline of the Covid pandemic in Brazil as its hospitals were overrun with patients and deaths outstripped the rate at which gravediggers could bury the bodies.

So when a new strain of Covid-19 was discovered in the city in mid-January, fears of a rerun of the 2020’s apocalyptic scenes were quick to surface.

One silver lining for the remote city was that the original virus appeared to have run out of steam, with some suggesting that a degree of herd immunity had been achieved. However, the “more transmissible strain of coronavirus” was quickly “linked to an explosion of infections”, the Financial Times reports.

Brazil has reported the second highest number of Covid deaths in the world, with fears that the new variant could “take hold more broadly throughout Latin America’s largest nation”, the paper adds.

By late January, 41% of cases in Manaus were being caused by the new strain, with The Wire reporting that scientists were left “ultimately helpless because of the Brazilian government’s apathy and lack of resources to tackle the virus”.

“When the healthcare system collapsed in Manaus last year, the country took little notice”, the site adds, but with 509 people waiting for beds in city hospitals by the end of January, “several other states offered to help”. More than 530 patients were taken to neighbouring cities for treatment, of which 37 died. 

However, the aid missions also increased the likelihood of the virus spreading beyond Manaus to Sao Paulo, “the most populous state with the highest number of infections and mortalities”, The Wire adds.

The strain has since been reported in India During an interview on BBC Radio 4 on 16 January, Professor John Edmunds, a member of the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said it was “likely” that it is also in the UK.

Brazil has kickstarted its vaccination campaign after President Jair Bolsonaro bet big on a deal for six million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab. The country has so far given out 5.6 million jabs, representing just 2.6% of people, according to Oxford University tracking.

However, while the arrival of vaccines gave rise to a “flurry of optimism”, that positivity is quickly “giving way to frustration that the government's vaccination campaign is beset by the same chaos that has marked its pandemic response”, France 24 reports.

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