Brazil’s COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign Gets Off To Chaotic Start

Nurse Janete Da Silva Oliveira prepares a dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in the Nossa Senhora Livramento community on the banks of the Rio Negro near Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil on February 9, 2021.
MICHAEL DANTAS / AFP

 

In hard-hit Brazil, hope unleashed by the first Covid-19 shots is giving way to frustration that the government’s vaccination campaign is beset by the same chaos that has marked its pandemic response.

One month after the first dose was administered to a Sao Paulo nurse on January 17 — setting off a flurry of optimism in the country with the world’s second-highest death toll — Brazil has managed to give shots to about 5.3 million people.

That number accounts for 2.5 percent of the nation’s population of 212 million.

Shortages have forced several key areas to halt immunization, including Rio de Janeiro which announced Monday it had to suspend the campaign in the city of 6.7 million until more doses arrived.

“The government made the mistake of putting all its eggs in one basket,” said Ethel Maciel, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Espirito Santo.

Under President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right social-distancing skeptic who routinely flouts expert advice on containing the new coronavirus, Brazil managed to secure just six million doses for the start of its vaccination campaign.

During the worldwide race last year to gain access to the most promising test vaccines, Bolsonaro bet big on the one developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca in partnership with Oxford University.

One of the president’s top opponents, Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, meanwhile struck a deal for his state to purchase and help produce another vaccine, CoronaVac, developed by Chinese firm Sinovac.

That was the vaccine that ultimately got injected into the first Brazilian arm, and it has saved Brazil from having even fewer doses on hand.

“It’s a good thing (Sao Paulo) made that deal, because otherwise all we’d have today would be two million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, for a population of more than 200 million,” Maciel told AFP.

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro “spearheaded an anti-vaccination campaign, saying he wouldn’t get vaccinated and warning people it could turn them into alligators,” added Maciel, who has submitted a petition for Congress to impeach the president over what she calls his “criminal” handling of Covid-19.

The Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines are the only two that Brazilian regulators have approved so far.

The government is counting on delivery of another 100 million doses of the former by the end of August, and 210.4 million doses of the latter by the end of the year.

Both require two doses.

– Racing new variant –

Ironically, the sprawling South American country is known for its turbo-charged vaccination campaigns.

Health workers regularly defy the logistical challenges of reaching the remotest corners of the Amazon rainforest and arid “Sertao,” or hinterland, to administer shots.

In 2010, Brazil vaccinated more than 80 million people against H1N1 — the swine flu virus — in less than three months.

“The lack of doses has made it impossible for us to do a mass vaccination drive, something we know how to do,” said Natalia Pasternak, a microbiologist at the University of Sao Paulo.

But time is of the essence. Brazil, whose Covid-19 death toll is nearing 240,000, is the birthplace of a new, more contagious variant of the virus that emerged in the Amazon and is spreading fast.

“That’s why the slow pace of vaccination is so worrying, because the longer we let the virus circulate unhindered, the more mutations may appear,” said Pasternak.

Meanwhile, reports have emerged of people with connections cutting in line for vaccination, and of nurses giving fake doses to elderly Brazilians.

The campaign has been marred by a lack of coordination between state, local and federal authorities, exacerbating the chaos.

Despite the difficulties, Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello vowed last week Brazil would vaccinate its entire population by the end of the year.

Experts are skeptical.

“It’s possible we’ll secure enough doses, but it will be difficult to get them administered by the end of the year,” said Guilherme Werneck, an epidemiologist at Rio de Janeiro State University.

“There would have to be a very radical change.”

-AFP

Spain Confirms First Case Of Brazil COVID-19 Variant

COVID-19 antigen rapid test devices are pictured during a mass screening to test 100 percent of the town’s population in Leon, northern Spain, on February 3, 2021.
CESAR MANSO / AFP

 

Madrid authorities on Friday confirmed the first case in the region of the Brazilian variant of coronavirus, which is feared to be particularly infectious, in the region.

A 44-year-old man who arrived at Madrid’s airport on January 29 tested positive for the coronavirus and subsequent lab tests confirmed he had caught the new strain, the regional government of Madrid said in a statement.

The case is the first report in Spain of the variant, blamed for a disastrous surge in infections in the Brazilian city of Manaus.

The announcement came three days after Spain restricted arrivals by air from Brazil and South Africa to curb the spread of new strains.

Madrid has since the end of December also restricted arrivals from Britain because of the discovery of a new virus strain there last year.

Health authorities are concerned that new strains of the virus may spread more easily or could contain mutations which allow the virus to evade the effects of vaccines.

At least two cases of the South African variant have so far been detected in Spain and around 450 cases of the British variant.

Spain has been hard-hit by the pandemic, recording over 61,000 deaths from nearly three million cases so far.

COVID-19: Brazil Starts Vaccination Campaign Two Days Early

In this file photo taken on December 8, 2020 a member of staff draws the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine out of a phial at the Southmead Hospital, Briston. Graeme Robertson / AFP / POOL

 

Authorities in Brazil, hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, will roll out a nationwide vaccination campaign Monday, two days earlier than announced.

The accelerated push comes amid a surge in Covid-19 cases and mounting impatience in states including Sao Paulo, which has already launched its own inoculation drive.

Brazil’s Anvisa regulatory agency on Sunday approved the Chinese CoronaVac jab as well as AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s Covishield.

A devastating second wave of coronavirus has been killing more than 1,000 people a day in the vast South American nation. Overall, nearly 210,000 people have died there.

Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria attended a ceremony Sunday shortly after the Anvisa announcement, where Monica Calazans, a 54-year-old nurse, became the first person to receive a Covid-19 jab in Brazil.

– Millions of doses shipped –

“After hearing from the governors, we came to the conclusion that today we will distribute the vaccines to the states,” and they “can begin to vaccinate” immediately, Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said Monday.

He made the announcement after meeting state leaders at Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo, from where 4.5 million doses of China’s CoronaVac vaccine will be sent nationwide.

Health workers, people older than 75, residents of old age homes and indigenous populations will be the first to be vaccinated. Both the CoronaVac and the Covishield require two doses.

READ ALSO: Biden Pushes For Unity Two Days Before Taking Over Crisis-Laden White House

Rio de Janeiro, the hardest-hit state in the country, is expected to start doling out jabs from 5:00 pm local time (2000 GMT) in an area near the Christ the Redeemer statue that dominates the city.

Northern Amazonas state, which has been battling record deaths and burials as hospitals run out of beds and life-saving oxygen, should receive its first batch of vaccines late Monday and will start inoculating people on Tuesday morning, the government said.

Pazuello had initially said the government would start distributing vaccines to all 27 states on Monday for a national inoculation campaign to start Wednesday.

While many countries have already started vaccination drives, including some among its neighbors, Brazil, with its population of some 213 million, has lagged behind.

And CoronaVac has been dragged into a political standoff between far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly tried to discredit it, and Sao Paulo Governor Doria, a defender.

Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the virus and railed against lockdowns, face masks and other “hysteria,” has come under renewed fire for his handling of the epidemic.

Sao Paulo already has six million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine, which a Brazilian trial had found to be 50 percent effective in preventing coronavirus infection, and the health ministry announced this month it had signed a deal with the local Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo, a major vaccine maker, to produce 100 million more.

Last week, Bolsonaro announced a commercial plane would be sent to India to collect two million doses of Covishield, produced there by the Serum Institute.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro Backs Trump Fraud Claim After Unrest

 

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday backed his ally Donald Trump’s claim of fraud in the US presidential election and warned the chaos that rocked Washington could also hit Brazil’s elections next year.

The far-right leader dubbed the “Tropical Trump,” is a staunch supporter of the American president, a stance he maintained even as international condemnation poured in for Trump’s role in encouraging the mob that stormed the US Capitol Wednesday.

“What was the problem that caused that whole crisis, basically? Lack of trust in the election,” Bolsonaro told supporters outside the presidential palace.

READ ALSO: Top Senate Democrat Says Trump Must Be Removed From Office

“They maximized mail-in ballots because of this pandemic thing, and there were people who voted three, four times. Dead people voted. It was a free-for-all. No one can deny that.”

Election officials, US states, and the courts have all dismissed Trump’s claims of widespread fraud.

But Bolsonaro has shown determination to stand by Trump to the end.

He was the last leader in the G20 group of nations to acknowledge president-elect Joe Biden’s victory, which he did only after the US electoral college officially confirmed the November 3 election result more than a month later.

Political analysts say Trump’s defeat isolates Bolsonaro, who modeled his own rise to the presidency on the Republican billionaires and hurts his chances for re-election in 2022.

As the shocking images of Wednesday’s unrest in Washington circulated in Brazil, many commentators speculated the South American country could be headed for a similar situation next year if Bolsonaro loses.

“Trump just gave Bolsonaro his script for 2022,” journalist Igor Gielow wrote in the leading newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.

Bolsonaro only fueled those concerns when he repeated his frequent criticism of Brazil’s electronic voting system, which he alleges — without evidence — is riddled with fraud.

“There’s a fraud here, too,” he said, warning Brazil faced “an even worse problem than the United States” if it did not reintroduce paper ballots, as he has insisted.

Brazil Rings In 2021 With Nearly Empty Copacabana Beach

Revellers celebrate New Year’s Eve at Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on December 31, 2020. (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA / AFP)

 

Brazil rang in the New Year with Rio de Janeiro’s famed Copacabana beach nearly empty — the usual swarms of revelers kept away by police because of the pandemic — and pot-banging protests against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

Rio usually hosts one of the world’s biggest New Year’s Eve parties, but authorities canceled the festivities this year as Covid-19 racked the country.

“It was a complicated year, with this pandemic that has devastated the entire world,” said Claudio Miranda, a 29-year-old salesman who was part of the relatively tiny crowd gathered on Copacabana.

“But we have to celebrate life — our lives, our families’ lives, everyone who’s still here. Even if our hearts are aching for those who have left us,” he told AFP.

Covid-19 has killed nearly 195,000 people in Brazil, the second-highest death toll worldwide after the United States. The South American country of 212 million people is currently in the grips of a nasty second wave.

The cancelation of the official festivities did not stop revelers across Rio from lighting up the city’s iconic skyline with fireworks of their own at midnight.

The loud booms blended with the sound of pot- and pan-clanging demonstrators shouting “Get out, Bolsonaro!” from their windows in Rio and Sao Paulo, Brazil’s two biggest cities, in protest against a leader they accuse of disastrous handling of the pandemic.

Bolsonaro, the politician dubbed the “Tropical Trump,” has downplayed the gravity of the virus from the start and consistently defied health experts’ advice on containing it.

He ended the year on the same note, saying that face masks — which global health officials call a vital tool in preventing transmission of the virus — “don’t protect against anything.”

“That’s a fiction,” he said in a New Year’s Eve live address on Facebook.

“When are we going to get some people with the courage — because I’m not a specialist on this, OK? — to speak up and say that the protection provided by masks is a tiny percentage?”

 

An almost empty Copacabana beach is seen on New Year’s Eve, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on December 31, 2020. – Brazil rang in the New Year with Rio de Janeiro’s famed Copacabana beach nearly empty — the usual swarms of revelers kept away by police because of the pandemic — and pot-banging protests against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
Rio usually hosts one of the world’s biggest New Year’s Eve parties, but authorities canceled the festivities this year as Covid-19 racked the country. (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA / AFP)

 

New Year’s celebrations were largely muted affairs across Brazil, though huge crowds of mask-less revelers could be seen at beaches and clubs in some areas.

Police broke up large parties in several cities, according to media reports.

Football superstar Neymar meanwhile tried to douse a firestorm of controversy over reports he organized a week-long party for 500 revelers at his mansion outside Rio.

The 28-year-old Paris Saint-Germain striker posted a video on Instagram of his preparations for what he called a “low-key little dinner at home” for friends and family on New Year’s Eve.

“And it’s not for 500 people, ok?” he added with a laugh.

Neymar In New Controversy Over New Year Party Rumors

Football Star, Neymar, and his family. PHOTO: Instagram/@neymarjr

 

Brazil’s star footballer Neymar is at the center of a new controversy storm after several Brazilian media reported that he’s organizing a huge New Year’s Eve party despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Acelmo Goes, a columnist for the O Globo newspaper, claimed that the Paris Saint-Germain forward is hosting 500 people for a week-long party at his luxury beachside mansion near Rio de Janeiro that started on Saturday and will last until New Year’s Day.

Brazil has suffered the second-largest number of Covid-19 related deaths in the world with more than 191,000, while 7.4 million people have contracted the virus.

READ ALSO: Davido Tweets About Quitting Music After Alleged Fight With Burna Boy

Neymar, who is no stranger to controversies over his parties, allegedly even installed soundproofing equipment to try to avoid bothering his neighbors.

Leo Dias, a columnist for the Metropoles website who is renowned for his scoops on celebrities, even named the artists due to perform at Neymar’s party, such as Ludmilla and Wesley Safadao.

Guests’ mobile phones are allegedly due to be confiscated on the door to prevent any evidence from finding its way onto social media.

Representatives for Neymar denied the rumors, releasing a statement saying there would be “no party” in Neymar’s villa.

A specialist events agency, Agencia Fabrica, released a statement confirming it had been contracted for a New Year’s event in the Costa Verde region where Neymar’s villa is located “that will host around 150 people … while respecting all the health rules determined by the public bodies.”

Neymar’s villa is in Mangaratiba, a small town in an area of luxury seaside resorts in Rio de Janeiro state.

The local town hall has pleaded with its 41,000 inhabitants not to hold end-of-year parties and has erected barriers to prevent people from congregating.

“We don’t have any information about this party,” the town hall said in a statement sent to AFP.

Neymar, who hasn’t played since December 13 when he injured his ankle against Lyon, hasn’t commented on the party and in recent days has posted pictures of his family on social media without commentaries.

His Mangaratiba mansion is located on a 10,000m2 plot of land that includes a heliport, sports pitches, spa, sauna, massage parlor, gymnasium and dining areas.

It’s where he previously spent his time recovering from injuries and also where he headed from March to June when the coronavirus was raging in France leading to the suspension of professional football.

AFP

Brazil’s Richest Man And Banker Joseph Safra Dies At 82

In this file photo taken on November 21, 2002 Lebanese-Brazilian Joseph Safra speaks on his mobile phone as he arrives at a courthouse in Monaco for the start of the trial of former US soldier Ted Maher, accused of an arson attack that killed his brother Edmond.  Pascal GUYOT / AFP

 

 

Lebanese-Brazilian banking magnate Joseph Safra, the wealthiest man in Brazil, died Thursday at age 82 of natural causes, his bank said.

Safra, who had an estimated fortune of $23.2 billion, ranked 63rd on Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s wealthiest people.

Born in 1938 to a Lebanese Jewish family in Beirut, he emigrated with his family to Brazil, where his father founded what would become Banco Safra.

In 1962, he and his brothers took over the bank from their father, who died the following year.

READ ALSO: Cost Of Data Reduced By 50% Since January – NCC

They turned it into a major financial group, with operations in more than 25 countries.

A patron of the arts and philanthropist, Safra donated part of his fortune to medical research and also purchased artworks for Sao Paulo’s Pinacoteca, one of the leading museums in Brazil.

AFP

Boeing 737 MAX Makes Historic Commercial Landing In Brazil Since Crashes

A Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by low-cost airline Gol is seen on the tarmac at Guarulhos International Airport, near Sao Paulo on December 9, 2020, as the 737 MAX returns into use more than 20 months after it was grounded following two deadly crashes.
NELSON ALMEIDA / AFo

 

The first commercial flight of a Boeing 737 MAX since the jet was grounded 20 months ago following two deadly crashes landed safely in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre Wednesday, said AFP journalists on board.

Flying for Brazilian airline Gol, the newly revamped jetliner concluded the 90-minute flight from Sao Paulo without incident, in what Boeing hopes will turn the page on a badly damaging crisis in the wake of the 2018 and 2019 crashes, which killed a total of 346 people.

More to follow . . .

Brazil’s President, Bolsonaro Says He Won’t Take COVID-19 Vaccine

A hand out picture released by Brazilian presidency press office shows Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaking at the G20 Heads of State Meeting that this year was held by video conference, from Planalto Palace in Brasilia on November 21, 2020. 
MARCOS CORREA / BRAZILIAN PRESIDENCY / AFP

 

Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro has said he will not take a vaccine against the coronavirus even after it receives approval from his own government.

“I’m telling you, I won’t take it (the vaccine),” he said in a video posted to social media on Thursday. “It is my right.”

Brazil has recorded over 170,000 coronavirus deaths, according to an AFP tally, behind only the United States.

Bolsonaro faces criticism for his handling of the pandemic, which has included playing down the virus, opposing lockdown measures and relentlessly promoting the drug hydroxychloroquine despite studies showing it is ineffective against Covid-19.

He caught Covid-19 himself at the beginning of July, and more than half of his cabinet have tested positive for the virus in recent months.

 

READ ALSO: India’s Pharmaceutical Giant To Make 100 Million Sputnik V COVID-19 Vaccines

 

Once any treatment is approved by Brazil’s health regulatory authorities, his government will “immediately organize” its purchase and distribution to those who want it, he said in the video.

But he added he was “sure” that Brazil’s parliament would not make immunisation mandatory.

Many nations are pinning their hopes on a vaccine to end the misery of the pandemic, with two jabs on the cusp of approval by authorities after showing about 95 percent efficacy in trials.

On Wednesday, US-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer gave the results of the tests of their candidate to the office of Brazil’s health regulators, a necessary step to approve and register the vaccine.

Brazil’s health ministry has already agreed to buy 100 million doses of a different vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

-AFP

Bus, Truck Crash Kills At Least 37 In Brazil

Brazil is the world's fifth-largest country by area and the sixth most populous.
Brazil is the world’s fifth-largest country by area and the sixth-most populous.

 

At least 37 people were killed and 15 injured Wednesday when a bus and a truck crashed in southeastern Brazil, police said.

The bus, which was carrying workers at a textile factory, collided with the truck early in the morning on a highway outside the town of Taguai, in Sao Paulo state, police said.

The death toll, initially reported as 32, was expected to rise further, state police said in a statement.

READ ALSO: Customs Seize N139m Worth Of Rice, Petrol, Other Contrabands

“We know there are more victims in the wreckage of the vehicles, but we don’t know how many,” it said.

A police source told AFP that when rescue workers arrived at the scene, “there were bodies everywhere.”

“It was impossible to tell who had been in the truck and who had been in the bus,” he said.

Police are still investigating the cause of the crash.

READ ALSO: Brazil Suspends Chinese COVID-19 Vaccine Trials

Rescue workers were still treating victims at the scene. Taguai is about 340 kilometers (210 miles) west of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city and economic capital.

Local media reports said there were 53 people on the bus.

The truck driver reportedly survived the crash.

AFP

Suarez Contracts COVID-19, To Miss Brazil Showdown

In this file picture taken on June 29, 2019 Uruguay’s Luis Suarez reacts during the Copa America quarterfinal football match against Peru at the Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador, Brazil. JUAN MABROMATA / AFP

 

Uruguay’s Luis Suarez has tested positive for Covid-19 and will miss the World Cup qualifying match against Brazil, Uruguay’s football association announced Monday.

“Tests have been carried out on all the members of the national team, with the result that the players Luis Suarez (and) Rodrigo Munoz and the official, Matias Faral, have tested positive for Covid-19,” the federation said in a statement.

All three are “in good health”, it added. They join defender Matias Vina, who tested positive on Saturday after Uruguay’s 3-0 win over Colombia in Barranquilla.

Uruguay host Brazil in Montevideo on Tuesday.

AFP

World Cup Qualifier: Brazil Struggle To Beat Venezuela Without Neymar

Players of Brazil gather before the start of their closed-door 2022 FIFA World Cup South American qualifier football match against Venezuela at Morumbi Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on November 13, 2020. NELSON ALMEIDA / POOL / AFP

 

Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino scored the crucial goal as Brazil laboured to a 1-0 win over a well organized but limited Venezuela in their World Cup qualifier on Friday.

Firmino broke the deadlock on 66 minutes in Sao Paulo, poaching a goal after Venezuelan defender Darwin Machis’ attempt to clear an Everton Ribeiro cross fell to him a few yards out.

Firmino’s 16th goal in 47 appearances for the Selecao was enough to maintain their 100 per cent record in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

Brazil have already beaten Bolivia (5-0) and Peru (4-2) and top the South American qualifying table with Argentina second.

Venezuela, who lost their first two qualifiers, were set up to contain and held the Brazilians scoreless at half time in the deserted Morumbi stadium.

The hosts missed the injured Neymar’s creativity in midfield, but even with an attack sporting Firmino, Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, they could find no way through the mass Venezuelan defence in the first half.

Richarlison did have the ball in the net early on but the Everton striker’s celebrations were cut short when Firmino was adjudged to have been narrowly offside in the buildup.

Players of Brazil gather before the start of their closed-door 2022 FIFA World Cup South American qualifier football match against Venezuela at Morumbi Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on November 13, 2020. FERNANDO BIZERRA / POOL / AFP

 

For all Brazil’s pressing, Wuilker Farinez had little enough to do in the Venezuela goal, but the keeper made a flying save to beat away a bouncing shot from Firmino just before the half-hour, the Liverpool striker heading the resulting corner well wide.

With 75 per cent possession but short of ideas in attack, most of Brazil’s threat came from the left and it was from there they worked their best chance on 32 minutes, Atletico Madrid’s Renan Lodi whipping in a cross that Gabriel Jesus and then Richarlison, at full stretch, failed to turn in to a gaping goal.

Venezuela’s only threat came from a break up the left wing by Yeferson Soteldo, whose cross for Salomon Rondon was hacked away by Marquinhos.

Rondon, formerly of West Bromwich Albion and now plying his trade for Chinese Super Lague club Dalian Professional, otherwise cut an isolated figure when not busy with defensive duties.

Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson, who hardly touched the ball during the whole match, reacted quickly to scramble the ball away when Rondon briefly threatened the Brazil goal at the death.

Venezuela’s Corinthians star Romulo Otero wasted Venezuela’s only other real chance when he fired a 25-meter free kick over Ederson’s bar in injury time.

A worried Brazilian coach Tite will have seen how sorely his side missed Neymar’s invention.

The Paris Saint-Germain star, who suffered a thigh injury in a Champions League match last month, is also set to miss Tuesday’s match with Uruguay in Montevideo.

Venezuela host a resurgent Chile in Caracas on Tuesday.

Jose Peseiro’s side are likely to maintain their uncomfortable record of being the only South American team never to qualify for a World Cup.

AFP