Dhe picture of the dying patient on the cold tiles in the UPA Teresina emergency aid station moves the Brazilians. Next to the helpless man, 86, sits the desperate, exhausted nurse Polyena Silveira. In front of her is a bowl with the last of the medicines and aids that are still available to her. The photo, which was printed in various newspapers, symbolizes the desperate situation in which the health system of the vast South American country finds itself.
Almost everywhere, hospitals and initial admission wards report a shortage of intensive care beds, and drugs and oxygen are running low. All beds were also occupied in the UPA Teresina in the interior of the most populous northeastern state of Piaui. Nurse Silveira reports in the Brazilian media about her everyday observations about the mutation: “This virus is much stronger than the one we had a year ago.” Teresina is almost overwhelmed by the force of the third wave, reports Silveira. “We are now in a traumatic situation, with a lot of fear.”
Brazil has had its deadliest week since the pandemic began. The press consortium of the Brazilian media, which determines the daily numbers itself because it has mistrusted the Ministry of Health for months, counted more than 16,000 deaths in one week. The mismanagement of the Brazilian government has already enabled the dangerous mutant P1 to spread – to Europe.
A race against time
And P1 could only have been the beginning: wherever many people become infected, new mutations can potentially arise. The Brazilian virologist Atila Iamarino confirmed this in an interview with the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”: “Where there have already been many infections, there is a risk that mutants will develop.”
Therefore, the international community of states should now help Brazil to get the infection situation under control. Because the concern is not only that a new mutation could spread worldwide from Brazil, but also that in the worst case the vaccinations against it might not work.
Brazil’s Foreign Ministry has already asked other countries for help, medicine and vaccination doses. It’s a race against time. Similar to the European Union, Brazil also failed to order vaccines on time and is now trying to make up for the shortage through hectic purchases. Now it depends on the pace of vaccine production and delivery whether Brazil can immunize faster than new mutations emerge. So the future of the pandemic will be decided in Brazil.
“We have become a global threat,” Brazilian infectious disease specialist Denise Garrett, vice president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute (Washington), told the BBC this week. The government of right-wing populist President Jair Bolsonaro is to blame for this. Brazil is an example of everything that could go wrong in a pandemic. The government has undermined measures such as social distancing or the wearing of masks and also slept for a long time while obtaining vaccines.
Even more worrying than the death toll are the increasing occupancy rates in intensive care units and the high number of new infections. With the exception of the state of Amazonas, where the first vaccinations (14.1 percent) are the most advanced, the daily newspaper “Folha” reported strongly increasing or constant high numbers of infections from all other states.
With a seven-day mean of 75,417 infections, over 500,000 new infections were added in the past week alone. And that is exactly the problem, because from this sheer mass of new infections, further mutations can develop that could threaten the rest of the world. The full force of these high numbers of infections will only unfold in the next few days, when Brazilian scientists expect up to 4,000 deaths a day.
The spread of the P1 mutation
The mutation variant P1 showed how quickly a mutation could spread from Brazil. It had already been detected in 25 countries at the beginning of March – including Great Britain. Uruguay, which is comparatively sparsely populated with 3.5 million people, also confirmed the presence of the Brazilian variant in seven provinces on Monday. President Luis Lacalle Pou immediately convened the Council of Ministers to discuss appropriate measures.
The evidence of the much more contagious variant also explains why the infection rate in Uruguay has increased so significantly in the past few days. So far, the country has had the pandemic the best of all South American countries because of the prudent, wise policy of the conservative head of state. Venezuela also recently reported a significant increase in new infections, for which President Nicolás Maduro blamed the Brazilian variant. The country imposed a tough two-week lockdown.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on Brazil to take a more coordinated approach to the pandemic. WHO Director Michael Ryan expressed concern about the “heavy pressure” on the Brazilian health system.
Bolsonaro does not want to change his corona policy despite domestic political pressure and a fire letter from 1,500 entrepreneurs who called for a change of course in the pandemic. A lockdown only makes the poor poorer, said Bolsonaro.
At the same time, the WHO urged rich countries to ensure that poorer countries also have access to urgently needed vaccines so that mutations cannot spread there. This is exactly the argument of the Brazilian government, which rejects the criticism of Brazil as a “danger to the world” as discriminatory and “terribly unjust”.
Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo said the promised vaccination solidarity of the rich countries does not yet exist. It is already becoming apparent that the anger of the Brazilians will not only be directed against Bolsonaro, but also against the vaccine-hoarding industrial nations such as the USA and Great Britain.