A cura di Luca Cherubim Ferracuti
On Tuesday, April 6th, Brazil became the second country in the world to surpass 4,000 covid-related deaths in a single day. The only other country to reach this somber benchmark was the United States, a nation which has a population of 100 Million more people than Brazil. Health specialists are becoming progressively more alarmed, as the country has come to the point where in more than half of its states, over 90% of ICU beds are occupied solely by COVID patients, some states even completely running out of available ICU beds, not only in the public sector but also in the private one. Multiple cities all over Brazil have been running out of oxygen tanks for patients who needed them, with some in the northern region relying on Venezuela to keep stock. Despite the desperate situation, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro continues to position himself against measures to stop the spread, threatening legal action against governors and mayors who decided to impose harsher lockdown restrictions, and even mocking people who criticized him after the country passed the mark of 230 thousands deaths in early March. In a time where the role of president should be one to look up to and to seek for comfort and leadership, Bolsonaro failed miserably, telling the country to “stop complaining”, and asking citizens for how much longer they are “going to cry”.
Throughout the pandemic, Bolsonaro has been an example of what not to do during a health crisis. Throughout 2020 and early 2021 he constantly fed vaccine skepticism to the country, even refusing to buy 70 Million doses of the Vaccine back in August of 2020 when Pfizer approached him with a proposal. At the same time Bolsonaro and his health department promoted and continue to promote the Chloroquine drug as treatment for the virus. Not only is this medication unapproved, but it can also worsen the situation of the patient if they take it irresponsibly, without consulting their doctors. Only 9% of the Brazilian population has received the first dose of the vaccine and less than 2% have been fully vaccinated, the vaccine being most utilized in the country is the Coronavac vaccine, which was supported by Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria and was boycotted by the president who refused to buy it several times (it was Doria who initially purchased said vaccines and took the initiative to start producing them at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo).
Up until this point, however, I have only explained how Bolsonaro has put his own citizens at risk, but his mismanagement of the pandemic is something the entire world should be worried about. The sky high contaminations going on in the country, together with slow vaccinations and insufficient testing (currently brazil ranks 126th in covid tests per capita), make Brazil the perfect place for the emergence of new covid variants, and more specifically variants that would not be covered by the vaccine. At the moment the main variant in Brazil is known as the “Manaus” variant, which affects mostly young people and is also known to be able to reinfect people that have already been exposed to the virus. Fortunately this variant does not seem to make vaccines ineffective, however it does seem to lower their effectiveness. New variants are being found daily with two main ones receiving coverage these past few days: the first one found in Sao Paulo being described as a combination of the South African and Manaus variant, and the second one, being detected in the city of Belo Horizonte, has stood out due to the fact that it has 18 unique mutations. It is still too early to know if these new variants are going to spread across the nation and if they pose a problem in terms of immunization, but it is of extreme importance to control the spread of unknown variants, something which the Brazilian federal government is not doing.
Brazil used to be a country admired worldwide due to its vaccination program which was able to immunize over 80 Million people in three months during the H1N1 pandemic. Brazil’s public healthcare was flawed, but it was still considered one of the best across the developing world with every single Brazilian being able to access healthcare. All of the hard work that Brazil had done over the past decades to build up health infrastructure and to take care of its citizens came crumbling down due to two viruses teaming up against the population: one virus that started ravaging across the world in 2020 and one that was elected as the president of Brazil in 2018.