The Costa Rican Congress unanimously passed extraordinary credit for the country to purchase additional coronavirus vaccine doses. To buy 640,000 jabs, the government expects to spend an extra CRC 40.5 billion (USD 65.3 million).
Costa Rica started inoculations on December 24 and is one of six countries where vaccination is ongoing. The others are Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Panama, and Brazil. So far, around 30,000 Costa Ricans have been vaccinated, including the country’s oldest man, José Uriel “Chepito,” who claims he is 120 years old.
The country has distinguished itself from neighboring nations by managing to keep infections and deaths at low levels. With a population of 5 million people, Costa Rica has reported 2,506 deaths and roughly 188,000 confirmed cases.Support this coverage →
Supreme Court Justice Rosa Weber has denied a request by the Democratic Labor Party to allow remote voting sessions for the upcoming congressional leadership election for House Speaker and Senate President.
In her decision, Justice Weber said the court does not have jurisdiction to rule on the matter, and that lawmakers should decide the appropriate voting system among themselves.
Among those in favor of remote voting is Congressman Baleia Rossi, the House Speaker candidate supported by incumbent Rodrigo Maia. His main adversary, Arthur Lira, is opposed. Both are counting on defections from the other’s camp in order to reach a majority and are unwilling to yield to any system that seems favorable to their opponent.
At least 102 of 513 representatives and 27 of 81 senators in Brazil have tested positive for Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a survey by news website Poder360.Support this coverage →
Health authorities in Cuba have identified a new coronavirus variant on the island. The information was confirmed by the head of the Cuban Microbiology and Parasitology Society, María Guadalupe Guzmán Tirado, who says the mutation was detected in an asymptomatic patient who had traveled to South Africa and was tested in December.
After initially preventing a massive outbreak, Cuba now finds itself facing its worst moment in the pandemic. In January, the island confirmed its highest number of active cases (4,526) and saw the number of new daily cases jump to roughly 400.
Cuba is centering its inoculation efforts on the locally-made Soberana 2 vaccine, which would be the first coronavirus immunizer to be made in Latin America. The country claims it can produce up to 100 million doses by the end of the year. Soberana 2 has moved onto phase 2 clinical trials with 900 volunteers. If successful, phase 3 trials would start in March with 150,000 volunteers.Support this coverage →
Brazil’s embattled Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello has once again drawn criticism by appointing Army General Ridauto Lucio Fernandes to his ministry’s logistics department.
On his Facebook profile, Gen. Fernandes has made a series of anti-democratic posts, defending measures such as the shutdown of Congress, military intervention, and a state of exception in Brazil.
Since joining the cabinet, Mr. Pazuello — himself an Army General — has appointed at least 20 military figures to key positions, including an intelligence officer who has been put in charge of coordinating vaccine purchases. These moves have exasperated experts, but also senior officials in the Armed Forces — who fear their image will be tainted by the ministry’s botched management of the pandemic.Support this coverage →
The board of directors of Anvisa, Brazil’s federal health regulatory agency, has greenlit the emergency use of a further 4.8 million doses of the Chinese-made CoronaVac in a unanimous decision.
On January 17, the agency had cleared 6 million doses of the CoronaVac which had been entirely produced in China. This new batch, however, was packaged in São Paulo’s Butantan Biological Institute, which presided over the vaccine’s clinical trials in Brazil.
Anvisa directors reiterated the need for producers to submit additional information on how the vaccine works by February 28 at the latest, which would pave the way for the immunizer’s definitive approval.Support this coverage →
Amid one of his most delicate periods since taking office, President Jair Bolsonaro said this Friday that the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines imported from India’s Serum Institute will start to be distributed to several Brazilian states on Saturday, after arriving in São Paulo. An aircraft containing the shipment left India this afternoon, one day after that country’s government authorized Brazil’s import of 2 million doses.
Mr. Bolsonaro issued this promise in front of the presidential palace today, demonstrating a U-turn in the president’s anti-vaccine discourse. “People said I was against the vaccine. I was against the vaccine without [regulatory] approval. After the approval, I have nothing more to do except distributing the vaccine,” he said.
Several states in Brazil have begun vaccination and the country hopes to immunize 2 million more people in at-risk groups with the incoming shipment from India. The government is also awaiting the arrival of more vaccines by way of the UN-backed COVAX Facility initiative. According to PanAmerican Health Organization Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa, the first doses will come in March, with Brazil receiving around 20 million units.Support this coverage →
São Paulo Governor João Doria announced that his state will take a step back in its reopening plan and adopt the strictest quarantine measures at evenings and weekends to curb a recent spurt in coronavirus cases.
All non-essential businesses must close before 8 pm on weekdays and will not be allowed to open on weekends. Restaurants and bars will be allowed to operate as delivery-only during these times. For the rest of the week, Greater São Paulo will be placed on the second-strictest stage of the reopening plan, wherein non-essential businesses will be allowed to open with reduced capacities. The measures will take effect on January 25.
“We will need extra measures to curb the spread of the virus until the majority of the population is vaccinated,” said Mr. Doria, in a press briefing. The state began its campaign on January 27 and, so far, a reported 75,482 people have been immunized.
Meanwhile, the governor will reactivate over 750 ICU beds in the state until February 25. Classes for the 2021 school year will be postponed and the state will not require mandatory in-person presence in state schools.
The decision was met with protests, especially from retailers and restaurant owners. Governor Doria asked for citizens’ and businesses’ help and understanding. “There is no economy without life. We need to make sure people are alive to go to restaurants, bars, and bakeries,” he said.Support this coverage →
Fearing a potential truckers’ strike, the Brazilian government decided to include these professionals in the priority group for coronavirus vaccination, along with health workers, people with existing health problems, and senior citizens.
The national vaccination plan was updated back on December 16, when it included public transport workers among the vaccine priority list.
The new plan also includes port workers and the employees of airline, shipping, and railway companies. The Brazilian National Transport Confederation (CNT) estimates that these professionals will be among the 2 million Brazilians vaccinated in phase four of the country’s immunization program. However, health regulators Anvisa said that each phase of the vaccination plan depends on how many doses are available.
Currently, there are only 6 million ready-to-use shots available for use. The number is expected to increase soon.Support this coverage →
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has reportedly contracted Covid-19 during a visit to Cuba, after visiting the island to take part in a documentary about Latin America, directed by Oliver Stone.
Per Folha de S. Paulo columnist Mônica Bergamo, Lula received his positive test result on December 26 and then proceeded to quarantine for 14 days in Cuba. The ex-president did not experience any symptoms of the disease, but scans detected pulmonary lesions compatible with Covid-19.
Lula was prescribed a corticosteroid, blood thinners, and immunotherapy drug Jusvinza. The Cuban government has credited the latter with slashing the country’s coronavirus death toll, though scientific evidence to prove its efficacy is still inconclusive.Support this coverage →
New peaks in Covid-19 infections have driven cities across Latin America to a situation of healthcare collapse. In multiple countries, the sheer number of patients infected with new and more contagious variants of the coronavirus has emptied supplies of oxygen cylinders, with patients dying of asphyxiation in Brazil and Peru.
In Mexico, which reported a record number of new daily deaths on January 20 (a confirmed 1,584 casualties) and over 20,000 new daily cases, the desperation of patients has led to attempts to steal oxygen cylinders from hospitals.
In the northern state of Sonora, one man tried to storm a hospital in order to steal oxygen supplies. Meanwhile, two individuals were arrested on the outskirts of Mexico City carrying 44 tanks.
The market for fake Covid-19 tests
In Chile, one medical center near Santiago was caught selling fake negative Covid-19 tests for USD 85 apiece. Their main customers, according to law enforcement, were travelers who had to prove they were not carrying the virus in order to leave quarantine. The complaint was confirmed by the chief of the Regional Health Secretary, Paula Labra, who said that a lab named ‘Care Full Home’ had been offering PCR tests with negative results within hours, without even collecting nasal samples.Support this coverage →
Reuters reports that authorities in India have finally greenlit the shipment of 2 million ready-for-use doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Brazil. As India’s Foreign Ministry — and later the country’s consulate in São Paulo — confirmed, the vaccine should arrive in São Paulo on January 22.
The Brazilian government had hoped the shots would arrive last week, but Indian authorities suspended exports until its own domestic immunization program was underway. The case was detrimental to the reputation of Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo, as even members of the Bolsonaro administration said that he should have been able to clear the shipment sooner.
It also drew criticism toward Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, after his department delayed the mission to collect the vaccine last week, in order to decorate a charter plane with marketing slogans — an idea thought up by his newly-hired personal image advisor, Marcos Erald Arnoud, better known as “Markinhos Show.”
Update: President Jair Bolsonaro took to Twitter to celebrate the shipment, and praised Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo for his efforts.
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– NOVA DÉLHI, 21 Jan/Reuters/por Sanjeev Miglani – O governo da Índia liberou as exportações de vacinas contra a Covid-19, e as primeiras remessas serão enviadas nessa sexta-feira para o Brasil e Marrocos, disse o secretário de Relações Exteriores da Índia. pic.twitter.com/LEoVphbwuj— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) January 21, 2021
Panama is the latest Latin American country to begin its own Covid-19 vaccination program. On January 20, health professionals inoculated 641 people with the immunizer produced by Pfizer.
The first Panamanian to get a vaccine was 59-year-old nurse Violeta Gaona de Cocherán, kicking off the first phase of immunization which aims to reach 6,400 people. The government hopes to vaccinate 450,000 citizens by February 15, just over 10 percent of the country’s population.
Besides Panama, vaccination in Latin America is ongoing in Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil — as well as in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, where immunizations started early in December. Ecuador administered its first symbolic doses this week and plans to start immunization soon.
The company currently supplies 300 hospitals and urged authorities to look for alternative suppliers as it has reached its maximum production capacity. “Today, consumption reached our capacity of 200 tons per day. This is 300 percent above pre-pandemic levels,” said the company in a statement.
Health Ministry data shows that, as of January 19, 1,696 Covid-19 patients in intensive care required ventilators.Support this coverage →
As the Health Ministry comes under enormous criticism for its mishandling of the pandemic, department head Eduardo Pazuello fired one of his closest advisors in order to make room for Marcos Eraldo Arnoud Marques, who had been acting as the minister’s unofficial marketing advisor since December.
Mr. Marques, known as Markinhos, is the brain behind the marketing stunt which delayed a mission to collect 2 million ready-for-use vaccines from India, so that the aircraft used could be decked out with government marketing material, bearing the slogan “Immunized Brazil. We are one Nation.” The slogan is part of a nationwide campaign to raise awareness about coronavirus vaccines, which will use faces of “everyday Brazilians” in order to “get closer to people,” Markinhos told The Brazilian Report.
Markinhos’ fingerprints were also seen in Mr. Pazuello’s opening remarks before press conferences — including the minister’s denial of having defended the use of chloroquine as “early treatment” for Covid-19, just one week after arguing just that.Support this coverage →
This Wednesday, House Speaker Rodrigo Maia was interviewed on TV news channel Globo News to talk about his meeting with Yang Wanming, the Chinese ambassador to Brazil, concerning Brazil’s desire to import coronavirus vaccine inputs from China. The meeting took place amid a diplomatic buzz, which suggested that the Bolsonaro government’s anti-China stances served as an impediment to the purchase.
According to Mr. Maia, the meeting was considered to be “positive” and “productive” and “political issues did not enter the negotiation.” The House Speaker said that no member of the federal government had contacted Chinese authorities to discuss the import and criticized the Executive branch’s “very poor” administration during the pandemic. “The fact that people have been suggesting the delay in sending vaccine inputs is for political reasons already shows the government’s mistakes,” he said.
Mr. Maia mentioned that the good relationship between São Paulo Governor João Doria and Beijing has been important in negotiations, reaffirming that China knows the importance of clear bilateral relations. The House Speaker also mentioned the efforts of São Paulo’s Butantan Biological Institute and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation medical research institute for kickstarting vaccination in Brazil.
Doria set to visit China to negotiate vaccine inputs
With negotiations hitting snag after snag, São Paulo Governor João Doria is already planning a trip to China to take the lead in talks with Beijing. This was announced on Wednesday morning by São Paulo Health Secretary Jean Gorinchteyn and confirmed by The Brazilian Report this afternoon.
TrateCov, a new government app developed by the Health Ministry to help doctors diagnose Covid-19, is reportedly recommending the prescription of unproven drugs hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin as treatment, according to Veja Magazine.
The news comes one day after Didier Raoult — the French physician who first used the antimalarial drug chloroquine to treat Covid-19 patients — admitted that the treatment is not effective to reduce ICU hospitalizations and deaths caused by SARS-CoV-2. The Brazilian Society of Infectious Diseases issued a statement saying that “so far, the best scientific evidence shows that no drug is effective to prevent or act as early treatment for Covid-19,” countering the Health Ministry’s guidelines.
As informed by the Health Ministry, TrateCov provides doctors with a list of symptoms “led by rigorous clinical criteria” and indicates “a few therapeutic options available in the most up to date literature, suggesting the prescription of drugs.” The Ministry’s Labour and Education Secretary Mayra Pinheiro added that it is possible to diagnose Covid-19 “as long as the patient fills three criteria for the disease.”
The Brazilian Report accessed the TrateCov platform on Wednesday morning, and found that the government app lists textbook Covid-19 symptoms such as shortness of breath and the loss of taste and smell, but also warns that other diseases such as flu and dengue fever may have similar symptoms. We were unable to confirm which prescriptions TrateCov offers, however, as the function is only available for beta use by doctors in Manaus.
The Office of the Prosecutor General released a statement on Tuesday affirming that any illicit acts committed by authorities “at the head of the Republic’s branches of power” during the pandemic must be adjudicated by Congress — in a veiled reference to the potential impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro.
While not directly mentioning the possibility of ousting Mr. Bolsonaro, the Prosecutor General’s press office confirmed that the statement is a response to increased demands regarding the potential removal of President Jair Bolsonaro from office.
Talk of impeachment has increased in recent days, boosted by the dramatic scenes of the public health crisis in Manaus, where Covid-19 patients were left to suffocate to death due to a shortage of oxygen cylinders in hospitals.
The Prosecutor General’s Office states that Brazil finds itself in a delicate situation, but argues in favor of “moderation and prudency,” in favor of institutional stability.
“Political segments clamor for criminal measures against federal, state, and municipal authorities. The Prosecutor General [Augusto Aras], in the scope of his responsibilities and observing Supreme Court decisions regarding the division of jurisdiction between federal, state, and municipal governments, has been adopting all applicable measures since the beginning of the pandemic,” reads the statement.
“Potential illicit acts that result in the liability of political agents at the head of the Republic’s branches of power are the jurisdiction of the Legislative branch.”
After seeing neighboring state Amazonas plunged into a full-blown coronavirus healthcare collapse last week, the town of Faro, in Pará state, is suffering from its own coronavirus-related chaos. Shortages of beds, oxygen cylinders, and medication in the city’s hospitals have led to a reported six people dying of suffocation in the last 24 hours.
The state of Pará had banned the arrival of boats from Amazonas last week, but experts suggest that a new variant of the coronavirus — largely responsible for the boom in cases in the city of Manaus — has already spread to neighboring regions.
Faro’s situation has become even more concerning due to the fact that the city usually imports oxygen from Manaus, where all available stocks are now being used on the local hospital network. “Both cities are in crisis,” said Faro Mayor Paulo Carvalho. “The demand is bigger than the supply, because production has been compromised.”
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Brazilian House Speaker Rodrigo Maia has scheduled for Wednesday a meeting with the Chinese Embassy in Brasília, looking to negotiate the clearance of exporting inputs necessary for the production of more jabs of the CoronaVac immunizer.
Health officials in Brazil believe the lack of inputs puts Brazil at risk of needing to paralyze vaccination efforts for a lack of available shots. Once Chinese authorities greenlight the shipment of inputs, the São Paulo-based Butantan Biological Institute will initiate the production of 46 million doses. “We can produce up to 1 million jabs a day, pending on the arrival of inputs. The difficulties right now come from the Chinese government,” says Dimas Covas, head of the institute.
Brazil has the technology to produce vaccines — but not its necessary inputs.
The House Speaker decided to bypass the federal government and speak directly with Chinese Ambassador Yang Wanming due to the stormy relationship between the Bolsonaro administration and Beijing. Relations have soured after a slew of Sinophobic comments from members of the president’s family — and even government officials.
Sources told The Brazilian Report that the administration admitted, during a meeting of senior officials, that its anti-China actions have been detrimental to the vaccine effort. To narrow the gulf between the two countries, a joint effort will start — with multiple cabinet officers reaching out to Chinese authorities.
Brazil is also encountering hardship to get 2 million ready-for-use shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced in an Indian lab. The Health Ministry quarterbacked a marketing stunt to get the shots — but New Delhi upended the deal. The South Asian country has decided to first supply neighboring countries before meeting the Brazilian demand — what has been considered a diplomatic failure by Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo, who has kept daily contacts with Indian representatives.Support this coverage →