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A year later, Manaus fears third Covid health collapse

Lucas Berti
Jan 14, 2022 15:06

Manaus, the biggest city in the Amazon rainforest, has experienced a massive surge in Covid infections this year as the Omicron variant continues to spread. New daily cases jumped from 37 two weeks ago to almost 1,700 on Wednesday — on par with March 2021 levels, when the city faced its worst phase of the pandemic so far.

Citizens have rushed to pharmacies and health units to either test themselves or treat flu-like symptoms, and local officials have suspended vacations and leaves of absence for health workers, and are preparing to increase the number of available hospital beds.

States in the Amazon region have posted some of Brazil’s lowest vaccination rates in the country. In Amazonas, where Manaus is located, only 54 percent of the population is fully immunized.

A year ago, Manaus ran out of medical oxygen as community transmission of Covid-19 hit untenable levels, leading to dozens of patients dying of suffocation while awaiting treatment. It was the city’s second health system collapse. In 2020, the city had already become one of the world’s biggest coronavirus hotbeds, with roughly two-thirds of the population believed to have contracted Covid-19.

Jab rollout slowing down since August as Brazil begins vaccinating children

Lucas Berti
Jan 14, 2022 11:31

The average number of Brazilians completing their vaccination schedule — either by taking a second jab or a single-dose immunizer — fell from 1.1 million in September to just 158,000 on Tuesday. Almost 68 percent of the Brazilian population is twice vaccinated, but, at the current pace, it would take over a month for the country to reach 70 percent.

Part of the slowdown is because most people eligible for vaccination have already taken their necessary shots. Of the population allowed to take vaccines, 81.4 percent are fully immunized. Meanwhile, vaccine uptake from teenagers has been slow, with the group only being offered jabs since September.

With states now starting to vaccinate children aged 5 to 11, the pace should pick up again. São Paulo will be the first to administer pediatric doses today, and hopes to reach 4.3 million children within a three-week period. 

One obstacle to this has been the government’s continuous efforts to stall child vaccinations, with President Jair Bolsonaro calling the campaign “a shot in the dark” and some of his highest-profile supporters comparing it to infanticide.

Omicron confirms businesses top threat in Brazil

TBR Newsroom
Jan 14, 2022 9:56

Preliminary data from Closecare, a startup which manages bureaucracy over employee medical leave, shows that respiratory issues have accounted for 51 percent of doctor’s notes submitted by employees — up from 39 percent in December. Closecare estimates that a total of 18 million Brazilian workers will call in sick this month.

The burden on companies could reach BRL 12 billion (USD 2.1 billion).

Besides tourism-related industries, hospitals have been short-staffed due to a surge of severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) — linked to the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant and a rare summertime flu epidemic. 

In São Paulo, unions representing medical personnel in basic care units voted to halt activities on January 19 to demand authorities hire more people to deal with a surge in demand. As of last week, almost 2 percent of doctors in municipal public hospitals were on leave after testing positive for Covid.

Cruises suspended in Brazil until February due to Omicron spike

Lucas Berti
Jan 13, 2022 17:06

Brazilian cruise liner association Clia said this Thursday that it will extend its suspension of cruises in Brazil until at least February 4, amid a spate of new Covid-19 infections. The previous suspension, announced on January 3, established the end of restrictions by January 21. 

Clia’s update came one day after Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa recommended a full suspension of the cruise season to curb the spread of the new mutation. Anvisa says at least 1,117 people have tested positive for the coronavirus on board the five ships currently operating in Brazil — 97 percent of those cases were reported between December 26 and January 6. According to Clia, the sector expected around 360,000 passengers on cruises this summer. 

Pfizer pediatric vaccines arrive in Brazil

Lucas Berti
Jan 13, 2022 9:00

A shipment containing 1.25 million pediatric doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine arrived in Brazil on Thursday. The shots, which are the equivalent of one-third of adult doses, should be cleared by health regulators before being distributed to states and municipalities, a process that takes approximately 24 hours.

This is Brazil’s first vaccine delivery since regulators greenlit the immunization of children aged 5 to 11 on December 16. The delay was mainly due to the Brazilian government’s unwillingness to vaccinate children — which President Jair Bolsonaro described as “a shot in the dark” that could provoke unwanted effects.

But a survey by the state government of São Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state, shows that the population is open to immunization. Eighty-four percent of parents say they are in favor of vaccinating their children. Support is higher among women and residents of Greater São Paulo.

By the end of the month, the government expects to have received 4.3 million pediatric doses from Pfizer — just over 10 percent of what will be needed to vaccinate the 20.5 million children aged 5 to 11 in the country. Each will receive two doses in an eight-week interval.

São Paulo set to limit stadium attendance amid Omicron scare

Lucas Berti
Jan 12, 2022 14:52

Just two months after lifting all attendance limits in stadiums, the São Paulo state government is set to reintroduce restrictions. On Wednesday, the state’s Covid committee suggested capping sporting events to 70-percent capacity to mitigate the risk of coronavirus transmission.

With Brazilians unwilling to observe renewed restrictions, officials said limits could be set by each municipality, depending on its pandemic outlook. They also urged stadiums to only allow the entry of fans who show proof of vaccination and negative Covid test results.

While the 2022 football season has yet to begin, the famous Copa São Paulo under-20 tournament is already underway and would be affected by attendance limits. The competition’s final match is scheduled for January 25, and the São Paulo state championship will kick off soon after. 

Brazil’s sports teams were severely affected by Covid restrictions, which deprived them from obtaining much-needed box office income for the better part of two seasons.

Infected, symptomatic employees show up for work at Brazil’s Health Ministry

Amanda Audi
Jan 11, 2022 11:04

The Brazilian Health Ministry is experiencing a coronavirus outbreak within its headquarters, civil servants tell The Brazilian Report. Supervisors have told infected workers that they should continue showing up for work, even those with flu-like symptoms.

“Use a face mask and keep socially distanced. If you feel you can work, then you can go to the office,” one manager told a female employee, who reported having a sore throat and intense headaches — two symptoms common in patients who contract the Omicron variant. The same employee says that two of her coworkers showed up to work despite having a cough and only tested themselves after a full day in the office. Both tested positive.

“The ministry does not pay for us to take private tests and has not given any guidance on how to proceed in case of a suspected infection,” she tells The Brazilian Report. “It’s every person for themselves.” The Health Ministry has not responded to a query for information.

This is not the first time the government has faced a spike in cases within its facilities. At the beginning of the pandemic, employees complained about being pressured into not wearing face masks. By July 2020, many government buildings were considered Covid hotbeds.

Omicron spread

The seven-day average of new daily coronavirus cases in Brazil ballooned from 3,156 on Christmas to 33,146 on January 9 — on par with July 2021 levels. A mathematical model by the University of Washington estimates that Brazil could reach 1.3 million new daily cases by next month — which would be four times more than the worst peaks of the pandemic in Brazil.

On Monday, the Health Ministry began a push to have self-testing kits cleared for use in Brazil. Self-testing is not allowed in Brazil for any infectious disease which must be reported to authorities.

Brazil halves Covid isolation period for asymptomatic patients

Lucas Berti
Jan 11, 2022 9:26

Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga announced on Monday that the government has cut down mandatory isolation for patients testing positive for the coronavirus, from 10 days to between five and seven.

To be released from quarantine on the fifth day after a positive test, patients must be asymptomatic and obtain a negative RT-PCR test. After the seventh day of quarantine, testing is no longer required. As Mr. Queiroga stated, Brazil’s new recommendations are similar to those issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Companies across the country fear a massive uptick of employees in Covid isolation as the Omicron variant continues to surge. The seven-day average of new daily coronavirus cases has ballooned from 3,156 on Christmas to 33,146 on January 9 — on par with July 2021 levels. Miguel Nicolelis, a Duke University neuroscientist who is tracking the crisis, believes the country could reach the mark of 2 million new cases a day by March unless mask requirements and isolation rules are tightened.

In order to better assess the progression of the new pandemic wave, the Health Ministry has promised to push for the approval of home testing kits, currently illegal in Brazil.