COVID-19 | Brazil wants to return to normal

(Sao Paulo) Sao Paulo’s bars are full again, officials in Brasilia, the capital, have almost finished videoconferencing meetings, and Rio de Janeiro’s beaches are packed. Calls for social distancing no longer seem like a memory.

Mauricio Savarese
Associated Press

Brazil appears determined to return to normal even as the death toll in the country exceeds 600,000, according to official data from the Health Ministry released on Friday. The decline in COVID-19-related cases and deaths has been particularly welcome due to warnings from experts that the Delta variant will produce another wave of destruction in the country with more casualties. So far, this scenario has not materialized.

Brazil’s average daily death toll hovered around 500 for a month, a marked drop compared to more than 3,000 in April. Almost 45% of the population is fully vaccinated and a booster dose will be given to the elderly. A higher percentage of Brazilians are partially vaccinated compared to Americans or Germans, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.

The improvement in the situation encouraged mayors and governors to admit the public to football matches and to leave bars and restaurants open until dawn. Some are even considering ending the requirement to wear a mask, a health measure that is often ignored.

Marcelo Queiroga, Brazil’s fourth health minister since the start of the pandemic, suggested at a press conference on Friday that masks should no longer be mandatory.

The mayor of Rio has announced plans to bring the city’s big New Year’s party to Copacabana beach.

The threat of the Delta variant

Gonzalo Vecina, a public health professor at the University of Sao Paulo, told The Associated Press in July that the Delta variant, which is more contagious, would cause “another explosion” of cases in a few weeks. He was not the only one among the experts to sound the alarms.

Vecina believes that the large number of Brazilians infected earlier this year with the Gamma variant, first identified in the Amazon city of Manaus, may have slowed the spread of transmission of the Delta variant.

“This is not the conclusion of a study; it is a possibility that we are raising in light of what we are seeing, ”said Mr. Vecina. “We are seeing an increase in the Delta variant in countries that have reopened as much as Brazil, and our number of cases continues to decline, with some very specific exceptions.”

Some analysts remain concerned about the possibility of the Delta variant spreading. Among them is Miguel Lago, executive director of the Brazilian Institute for Health Policy Studies, which advises public health officials. He believes authorities are taking considerable risks by reopening too much and announcing celebrations, and that Brazil will soon see more hospital admissions.

The pandemic has slowed down, but 500 deaths a day is far from good. And we don’t even have half the population fully vaccinated. We just don’t know enough and we have to consider this horrible step now.

Miguel Lago, Executive Director of the Brazilian Institute for Health Policy Studies

A memorial on the beach.

On Friday morning, in Copacabana where the New Year’s party will be held in Rio in less than three months, the militant group Rio da Paz organized a memorial in its arena to mourn the 600,000 deaths from COVID-19, with hundreds of handkerchiefs white hanging on the ropes.

On the other side of the city, in a support group for relatives of the victims, Bruna Chaves mourns the loss of her mother and stepfather.

“It wasn’t just 600,000 people who left; it’s a lot of people who die with them, emotionally, ”Ms. Chaves said in an interview. “It is absurd that people are treating this as if they were a few. It is a great number ”.

In Brazil, many continue to downplay the severity of the pandemic, the main one being Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose popularity has plummeted in large part due to his government’s chaotic response to the pandemic. The Brazilian president has not changed his position, even strongly supporting drugs that have proven ineffective against the virus, such as hydroxychloroquine.

Jair Bolsonaro also continues to criticize activity restrictions adopted by mayors and governors, saying that Brazil must keep the economy running to avoid causing further hardship for the poor.

On Thursday night, in a program broadcast live on Facebook, he showed a series of newspaper articles reporting on the economic crisis in Europe and the United States last year in an attempt to show that he did it from the beginning.

Months after the New Year’s Eve party, Rio will also host its carnival, according to Mayor Eduardo Paes. He added that social distancing was out of the question.

“It would be ridiculous to ask people to stay one meter away. If this were the case, I would be the first to not follow instructions, ”he told residents of a middle-class neighborhood on Monday. “Science has advanced, it has won, it allows us to open up.”

Brazil’s long history with vaccination campaigns has played an important role in slowing the spread of the virus, with wide adoption. Nearly three-quarters of Brazilians have received at least one dose so far, despite the fact that Jair Bolsonaro has spent months questioning its effectiveness and has not been vaccinated. Even most of his followers received the vaccine.

Brazil’s Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga has said that all Brazilians between the ages of 18 and 60 will be able to get vaccinated again next year. He added that more than 354 million doses will be available. The population of Brazil is approximately 210 million people.

“The scenario looks positive and I promise that Brazilians will have an effective vaccination campaign in 2022 and that will be the year the COVID-19 pandemic ends,” said the minister.

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