While the health situation in Brazil shows symptoms of overflow, the discovery of a new strain complicates the scenario
The variant of the coronavirus detected in the Brazilian Amazon is “very likely” more contagious, like the British or the South Africansaid researcher Felipe Naveca, who leads the studies on virus mutations in the state of Amazonas (north).
Naveca, a member of the Leônidas Institute and Maria Deane who works together with the prestigious Fiocruz Foundation, also indicates that the new variant may already be present in other parts of Brazil and does not rule out that it is the predominant strain in the state of Amazonas, where the pandemic is wreaking havoc.
The WHO described her as a “worrying variant“, which could impact the immune response.
An additional concern for Brazil, where the pandemic, in a new ascending phase, has already left more than 205,000 dead, a balance surpassed only by the United States. With a brutal incidence in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas is close to collapse due to the increase in infections and deaths.
Here is an excerpt from the Brazilian researcher’s conversation with the international agency AFP:
– What is known about the new variant of the coronavirus reported in Japan?
– We compared the samples and saw that the Amazonian ones were ancestors of the variant found in Japan (…), which attracted attention. Despite being descendants of the lineages that circulate in the Amazon, they accumulated mutations from November to the beginning of January.
Now we are finishing the sequencing [de las muestras] December, to find out if those mutations described in Japan were already circulating in the Amazon. Most likely yes. We need to understand if this variant is the one that predominates now in Amazonas.
– Is it possible that it is more contagious, like the British or South African?
– I cannot guarantee that this is the case, but there is such a possibility due to the mutations it presented at position E484K and N501Y [de la proteína Spike], which were already associated with this greater transmission potential. So most likely yes [es más contagiosa].
-Was the percentage of presence of the new variant in Amazonas calculated?
-We will only know that percentage when we conclude the December sequencing, [pero su ancestro] It is responsible for more than 50% of the covid cases in Amazonas. With the December numbers we are going to update it and it will probably increase.
-Is the rise in cases in Manaus due to this new variant?
– The situation in Manaus is not only due to a variant, we have an increase in cases already expected due to the holidays at the end of the year and because we are in the period of virus transmission [respiratorios] in the state of Amazonas (…). All that added led to this situation. We need urgent support from the population to reduce transmission and stop the evolution of the virus.
Q: If the new variant is confirmed to be circulating in Amazonas, why would the mutation have occurred there?
A: One of the hypotheses that it is occurring here in Amazonas is due to the very high number of cases, but (…) it may be occurring in other regions of Brazil. There was a coincidence when the Japanese investigators detected the case. We were probably going to identify him these weeks but their alert was very important.
Q: Will the new variant affect the efficacy of covid-19 vaccines?
A: That is the question everyone asks. I participated in a WHO meeting where that was one of the points under discussion. So far there is no evidence that this lineage impairs the vaccine response.
Q: Is there a risk that the new variant will spread throughout Brazil?
A: We have no way of specifying that it did not leave the Amazon. If it came to Japan it may be circulating in other parts of Brazil.
Hospital capacity in Manaus was exceeded by the pandemic.
Edge and despair in Manaus
The new variant of coronavirus that appeared in Brazil generates concern in the health authorities. Right now, the situation in Manaus, the epicenter of the outbreak, is desperate.
Hospital staff and relatives of patients with COVID-19 They rushed to bring the newly arrived oxygen bottles to the facilities in the largest city in the Brazilian Amazon, while doctors chose which patients will breathe in the face of shortages of supplies and in full campaign to transfer some of them to other states.
The workers of the Getúlio Vargas university hospital They took the empty bottles to their oxygen supplier in the hope that they could get some back. Normally, the company collects empty cylinders and leaves others full.
Desperate patients in overflowing hospitals they hoped the oxygen would arrive on time, even if for some it was too late. In at least one of the cemeteries in Manaus, a city of 2.2 million people, a line of grieving family members waited to enter and bury their loved ones. Brazilian artists, soccer clubs and politicians used his popularity to ask for help.
The country’s Minister of Health, Eduardo Pazuellosaid Thursday that a second plane with medical supplies, including oxygen, would arrive on Friday, and another four later.
In fact, that happened this Friday when two planes with 18 tons of liquid oxygen arrived in Manaus. The Air Force aircraft, from São Paulo, landed at dawn this Friday.
The Brazilian Foreign Ministry requested U.S the sending of a Galaxy plane to collaborate with the transport of the input and the government of Venezuela announced that it can deliver oxygen tubes to face the crisis.
The Amazon governor, Wilson Lima, declared that his state “is asking for help; considered by many the lungs of the world, the Amazon is in need of oxygen.”
Lima decreed a curfew between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. to prevent further infections, while some 200 patients will be sent to Brasilia and the states of Maranhao, Piauí and Goiás
“Yes, there is a collapse of the health system in Manaus. The line for a bed is increasing a lot, we have 480 people waiting now, “Minister Pazuello said in a transmission on social networks.” We are beginning to remove patients (with less serious conditions) to reduce the impact.
Manaus hospitals admitted few new patients with COVID-19 Thursday, suggesting that many will pass the disease at home, and some could die there.
Governors and mayors across the country offered their help amid the avalanche of videos with which the anguished relatives of COVID-19 patients in Manaus asked on social networks that people buy from them oxygen.
In Manaus there is a scene of “terror, from another world” said a woman who has a family member hospitalized, and another woman, whose mothers are hospitalized, implored that the authorities supply the Getulio Vargas University Hospital with this input.
The oxygen demand is 70 thousand cubic meters per day, after increasing by 500% in the last two weeks, reported the White Martins company, supplier of the product.
At the Getulio Vargas University Hospital he lacked oxygen for four hours so mdoctors and nurses they were forced to do manual ventilation.
The state’s 14-day death toll is approaching the peak of the first wave of the epidemic last year, according to official data.
Manaus, scene of a health tragedy.
At that time, Manaus it consumed a maximum of 30,000 cubic meters (about 1 million cubic feet) of oxygen per day, but the need has now more than doubled to almost 70,000 cubic meters, White Martins noted.
“Due to the strong impact of the pandemic COVID-19, oxygen consumption in the city increased exponentially in recent days compared to a volume that was already extremely high, ” the company said in a statement. “The demand is much higher than anything predictable and … it continues to grow significantly.”
The remote location of Manaus means logistical challenges, which requires the additional supplies to be transported by ship and plane, he added.
Bolsonaro downplayed the risks of the disease, noting that the economic consequences of the pandemic will kill more people than the virus. His son Eduardo, a legislator who chairs the International Relations Committee in the lower house, was one of the conservatives who in December incited his followers to disobey the rules of social distancing and to stay at home.
He Park of the Tribes, A community of more than 2,500 indigenous people on the outskirts of Manaus, went more than two months without registering cases of coronavirus. Last week, 29 tested positive for the virus, explained Vanda Ortega, a volunteer nurse in the community. Two went to the emergency room, but none required hospitalization.
“We are really very concerned,” said Ortega, who belongs to the Witoto ethnic group. “There is chaos here in Manaus. There is no oxygen for anyone.”
A new variant, the culprit?
A new variant of covid it would be behind this furious regrowth. The new strain that emerged in the Amazon was detected in Japan over the weekend. Mutations of the virus are occurring in all parts of the world. An estimated 70 other countries have variants that previously appeared in the UK and South Africa.
All these new strains have as a common characteristic the rapidity of contagion. Its impact on the vaccines that are being applied in dozens of countries is still unknown, although experts believe that in principle it should not drastically affect its prevention power.
Experts believe that this new variant is what caused the collapse of hospitals in the Brazilian state of Amazon.
In Manaus, the regional capital, “oxygen ran out and some health units became a kind of suffocation chamber“, described Jessem Orellana, from the Fiocruz-Amazonia Foundation, a scientific research institution.
Brazil is the second country most affected by the pandemic, with 205,000 deaths, a balance only surpassed by the United States.