Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has warned that ‘coronavirus will be with us for life’ as he urged regional leaders to abandon social distancing measures and instead learn to ‘live with’ the virus.
‘This issue of Covid will continue for life,’ he said at his weekly live webcast on social media, adding that social distancing measures will ‘lead nowhere.’
The 65-year-old strongman leader, who was himself infected with Covid, has shunned social distancing throughout the pandemic and has since announced that he will not take a vaccine.
But his popularity has been falling amid a slow jabs roll-out and soaring death toll, driven by a more-infectious Covid mutant that caused hospitals in the jungle city of Manaus collapse.
President Bolsonaro has urged regional leaders in Brazil against bringing in more social distancing measures to combat Covid, saying people must ‘live with’ the virus
Brazil has the world’s second-highest death toll from the disease, behind only the USA, which has been driven by the emergence of a new and more-infectious variant of the virus
Bolsonaro has shunned social distancing and mask-wearing throughout the pandemic, and has refused to take a vaccine, leading many to blame him for the country’s high death-count
Critics say the slow vaccine rollout is the latest in a long line of fumblings that have blighted Brazil with the second-highest coronavirus death toll in the world after the United States.
The country is reliant for a mass jabs roll-out on China’s Sinovac jab, and has so-far produced around 6million doses of it, but trials have show it to be only a little over 50% effective – barely meeting the standard for approval.
Brazil has also given approval for the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, but has only recieved 2million doses so far and is still waiting for shipments of key ingredients so it can produce the shots locally.
Bolsonaro attempted to defend the roll-out on Thursday, saying: ‘Europe and some countries in South America don’t have vaccines.
‘And we know that the demand is high. We have signed deals, contracts, from last September, with various companies, and the vaccines are starting to arrive,’ he said.
‘They will arrive and will vaccinate the whole population in a short space of time.’
Brazil has seen cases soar to record levels in recent months, driven by a new and more-infectious variant of the virus that began in the jungle city of Manaus
Deaths have also been rising on a par with the first wave, driven by a collapse in the health system in Manaus which saw hospitals run out of oxygen
Bolsonaro’s comments reflect a change of tone in recent weeks, as many have been angered by the president’s failure to quickly vaccinate Brazil’s 210 million people. His personal pledge not to take any shot has stoked growing anti-vaccine sentiment.
The end of a COVID-19 welfare scheme, and a sharp rise in new infections, have also dented his popularity.
Brazil is predominantly reliant on a Chinese shot, developed by Sinovac Biotech, but is awaiting a shipment of active ingredient from China needed to domestically producer an AstraZeneca vaccine. In the meantime, the country has received 2 million ready-to-use AstraZeneca shots until the active ingredient arrives.
Meanwhile researchers confirmed that a new Brazilian variant of the disease is now the dominant form of the virus in Manaus, confirming what many had long-suspected – it is more infectious than the original.
Felipe Naveca, who studies coronavirus mutations in northern Amazonas state, said the new variant was present in 51 percent of samples taken from coronavirus patients in December. By January 13, it was 91 percent.
‘Moreover, it has spread into the interior of the state’ of Amazonas, of which Manaus is the capital.
‘We have found it in 11 of 13 towns that we have studied,’ said Naveca.
The jungle city of Manaus has been particularly hard-hit with the new variant, forcing local leaders to ship in oxygen for patients from neighbouring Venezuela
Relatives have been forced to drag oxygen canisters from filling trucks and into hospitals to keep their suffering relatives alive as the health system in Manaus collapsed
Three cases of infection with the new variant were detected Tuesday in the vast South American country’s Sao Paulo state – the most populous with 46 million inhabitants.
Brazil has recorded more than 218,000 deaths due to the coronavirus – a toll second only to that of the United States.
‘The indications already were that (this variant) is more contagious as it has similar mutations to the ones linked to greater transmissibility observed in the virus variants from Britain and South Africa,’ said Naveca.
‘Now, data on the very high frequency with which it has been found reinforces the suspicion that it is more contagious.’
The British and South African variants have already spread across dozens of countries.
Portugal said Wednesday it was suspending flights to and from Brazil due to the surge in the number of coronavirus cases and the detection of the new variant. The United States, Britain, Italy and Peru have already barred flights from Brazil.
The World Health Organization said Wednesday that the Brazil variant, called P1, was now in eight countries – up from two just a week ago.
Naveca said the data ‘does not allow us to say whether this variant is more deadly’ than the original, even though the number of infections and deaths in Manaus has exploded in recent weeks.