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PAHO: Covid cases “continue to rise” in Latin America

Lucas Berti
May 19, 2022 19:10

A report by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says Latin America witnessed a sharp growth of Covid infections during the month of May, with confirmed cases jumping by more than 27 percent by the middle of the month – totaling more than 918,000 cases.

Once again, PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne requested local administrations “to increase surveillance, public health measures, and vaccination,” especially since only 14 of the 51 countries in the Americas have topped the 70-percent mark of vaccinated people.

PAHO adds that “countries must also maintain investments in ICU and hospital capacity so that services can be quickly scaled up to meet a potential surge in new infections.” 

“We have sufficient doses to cover those most at risk, and we have an obligation to do so,” Ms. Etienne said.

The Covid surge has been particularly high in Argentina, where cases have nearly doubled in recent weeks. In Chile, the government raised Covid alert levels in capital Santiago and other key districts — officials believe the next infection peak will come in July. The Chilean Health Ministry added that the government will make a decision on whether to give a third booster shot to senior citizens by June.

Uptick in Covid-related hospitalizations in São Paulo puts experts on alert

Lucas Berti
May 19, 2022 12:08 (Updated: May 19, 2022 12:09)

The number of Covid patients requiring hospitalization has increased over the past four weeks in São Paulo — as did the number of severe cases putting infected people in intensive care units. Experts fear a new Covid wave could be brewing in Brazil, similar to those which have hit Chile and Argentina.

After a steep deceleration in recent months, the number of patients in São Paulo ICUs jumped from 402 to 516 between May 9 and 17. Covid deaths have also increased, from a seven-day daily average of 17 to 47.

The peak could also be associated with the sharp decline of temperatures across the country, which helps airborne viruses spread as people seek closed spaces to shelter against the cold. 

São Paulo has one of Brazil’s highest vaccination rates, with over 93 percent of the state’s population protected by at least two shots. Because of that, by the end of March, São Paulo Governor João Doria decided to make the use of face masks no longer mandatory. Even at that time, when cases were slowing down, experts were skeptical about the move.

São Paulo drops vaccine mandates and loosens mask requirements

TBR Newsroom
May 17, 2022 9:19 (Updated: May 17, 2022 9:20)

City Hall in São Paulo will no longer enforce vaccine mandates for events in indoor spaces, according to a recent decree signed by Mayor Ricardo Nunes and Luiz Carlos Zamarco, the city’s top health official.

Mandates were first imposed in September of last year for events hosting 500 or more people, but were extended to all events amid the Omicron spread at the beginning of this year. According to city officials, São Paulo has administered 31.3 million vaccine doses so far — with the equivalent of 53 percent of the city’s adult population already having taken four shots.

Mask mandates in taxis and cars used for ride-hailing are also no longer in place. However, they remain mandatory on public transportation.

Experts are skeptical about the decisions, particularly the move to lift mask requirements. While Brazil’s Covid death toll is at a two-year low, numbers have ticked up in recent days.

Covid deaths in Brazil at lowest in two years. But cases are on the up

TBR Newsroom
May 16, 2022 9:30

According to the Health Ministry’s latest epidemiological report, Brazil recorded 1,104 Covid deaths occurring in April — the lowest for a single month since March 2020. The data refers to “deaths by real date,” as health units often report cases with some delay — especially during weekends and holidays, when staff numbers are reduced.

Since the Covid vaccine rollout began in Brazil, in January 2021, almost 89 percent of the population over 5 (those who are eligible for immunization) have taken at least one vaccine dose. More than 82 percent have completed their first vaccination cycle, and 55 percent have taken at least one booster shot.

However, the seven-day average of new daily cases has risen 20 percent over the past two weeks. Meanwhile, the rolling average of new deaths has topped the 100 mark for the past two days. Numbers are far lower than past coronavirus peaks, but the possibility of new variants surging continues to concern experts.

Health regulators ease Covid protocols on flights, in airports

TBR Newsroom
May 13, 2022 9:58

Anvisa, Brazil’s federal health regulatory agency, has once again cleared inflight service on domestic flights. It had been prohibited since March 2020 as a move to avoid contamination of passengers by the coronavirus. The new norms allow passengers to remove their face masks to eat on board.

Companies have been instructed to perform meal services as fast as possible and quickly remove trash — with special attention to material that was in contact with passengers’ saliva. 

Additionationally, Anvisa decided that airports can once again use boarding buses at full capacity — instead of capping the number of people per vehicle when transporting passengers between terminals and planes.

On April 22, the government issued an ordinance declaring the end of the Covid health emergency — which will come into force on May 22. The move comes as the country’s seven-day average of new daily Covid deaths has dropped to its lowest levels in two years.

Latin America begins to record unusual hepatitis cases in children

Amanda Audi
May 11, 2022 16:22 (Updated: May 11, 2022 16:23)

At least 20 countries and three Brazilian states have reported or are investigating unusual hepatitis cases in otherwise healthy children. In Brazil, state authorities are investigating 15 suspected infections in São Paulo (7), Paraná (2), and Rio de Janeiro (6) — but the Health Ministry has no information on them. 

The disease, which remains rare and is of unknown origin, has already been confirmed in Panama, Argentina, and Puerto Rico over the past few days. 

The most common viruses that cause hepatitis were not found in any of the cases, according to the World Health Organization. 

“Adenovirus has been detected in blood or plasma samples for many of the cases, but in low viral loads,” the Pan-American Health Organization said in a May 10 statement. “Adenovirus has not yet been identified in the liver tissue samples analyzed and therefore, could be a coincidental rather than a causal factor.”

At this point, experts believe that the hepatitis cases are unrelated to Covid. Twenty of the 169 patients identified by the WHO tested positive for Covid, but given how the coronavirus has spread around the world, that is hardly surprising.

Former Health Minister off the hook for Covid oxygen crisis

Guilherme Mendes
May 11, 2022 11:02 (Updated: May 12, 2022 13:16)

Eduardo Pazuello, who served as Brazil’s Health Minister between May 2020 and March 2022 — overseeing one of the world’s biggest Covid-19 debacles —, was cleared in a malfeasance investigation. He was accused of allowing the state of Amazonas to run out of oxygen supplies during the peak of the Delta variant spread and having done nothing to avoid it. Multiple Covid patients died of asphyxia while awaiting treatment.

A federal judge considered that, under a new misconduct law, it became impossible to prove intent from Mr. Pazuello — who claimed he was not aware of the extent of the crisis in Amazonas.

Last year, Congress passed (with support from the government) a law changing the legal notion of misconduct in office. Now, to prove the existence of misconduct in office, it must be proved that not only did a defendant commit an unlawful act, but that they did so with intent — which can be hard to prove. 

With Mr. Pazuello at the helm, Brazil’s Health Ministry went against measures to fight the coronavirus that it had previously advocated (such as lockdown-like orders) — in order to comply with President Jair Bolsonaro’s view of the pandemic. Brazil has tallied over 664,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

In return for his loyalty, Mr. Pazuello has gained support from Mr. Bolsonaro to run for a congressional seat for the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil estimated Covid underreporting just 2 percent, per WHO report

Lucas Berti
May 05, 2022 15:17 (Updated: May 05, 2022 15:18)

The World Health Organization published new estimates of Covid deaths around the world on Thursday, calculated by a global panel of experts. Roughly 14.9 million more people died worldwide in 2020 and 2021 than would have been expected under normal circumstances, the report says — more than double the 6.2 million Covid deaths officially reported by countries worldwide.

In Mexico, the WHO’s excess death toll was twice as high as the country’s official Covid death figures. In Pakistan and Egypt, the discrepancy was eight and 12 times government figures, respectively.

But the new estimates are just 2 percent above the official figures declared in Brazil, where a lack of testing and transparency from public officials posed an obstacle to accurate reporting on cases and deaths. 

The government has counted 663,759 deaths caused by the coronavirus so far — while the new WHO report estimates Brazil’s Covid excess deaths at 681,267.

In April, Brazil’s Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga announced that the government would declare the end of the Covid public health emergency instated back in February 2020. The decision is symbolic, being a declaration of victory over Covid at a time when the rolling average of new daily deaths remains below 100 and most of the country has returned to a life approaching normality.