Messi Ends Trophy Drought As Argentina Beat Brazil To Win Copa America



Superstar Lionel Messi won his first trophy with his national team as Angel Di Maria’s goal gave Argentina a 1-0 win over hosts Brazil in the Copa America final on Saturday.

The victory at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium ended Argentina’s 28-year wait for a major trophy, and also ended Brazil’s unbeaten home record that stretched back more than 2,500 days.

Argentina had last tasted success at a major tournament in 1993 when the great Gabriel Batistuta’s brace gave them a 2-1 win over Mexico in the Copa final in Ecuador.

“It’s a great title, especially for our people. The fans support the team unconditionally. I think they can identify with this team that never gives in,” said Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni.

It was the first time in six editions playing at home that Brazil had failed to lift the trophy.

And while 34-year-old Messi’s odyssey has come to an end, Brazil’s Neymar, five years his junior, is still without a major title at international level having missed the Selecao’s win on home soil two years ago through injury.

Argentina edged a brutal and fractious affair thanks to Di Maria’s goal on 22 minutes.

The 33-year-old winger ran onto Rodrigo De Paul’s sumptuous through ball to lob Brazil goalkeeper Ederson with a first-time finish.

“We fell short so many times, we dreamt so much about this, fought so hard,” said Di Maria, who was named man of the match.

“Many people said we wouldn’t manage it, we were criticized a lot. But we kept knocking at the door and kept going until today we knocked it down and entered.”

Messi could have wrapped up the win two minutes from time but slipped when clean through with only Ederson to beat.

“We have to be big enough to recognize (the defeat) regardless of how painful and difficult it is,” said Brazil coach Tite.

Di Maria the tormentor

In a frantic start, Argentina’s burly enforcer Nicolas Otamendi was quickly in with his first foul while Brazilian midfielder Fred picked up the first booking after just three minutes for a studs-up lunge at Gonzalo Montiel.

Brazil were unchanged from their semi-final win over Peru while Scaloni made five alterations, notably bringing in Di Maria — who made an energetic and decisive entry off the bench against Colombia last time out.

The final was the first match of the tournament, which was originally due to take place last year, to allow in fans as 7,800 — a tenth of the Maracana capacity — took their seats after authorities partially lifted pandemic restrictions.

The first clear chance came on 13 minutes as Richarlison headed down Marquinhos’s long ball into the path of Neymar but the Brazilian star was crowded out by a pair of defenders.

The brutal nature of the early challenges could be seen on the players’ kits, with Neymar sporting ripped shorts and Lucas Paqueta being left with a hole in his sock following an intervention by Otamendi.

Argentina played with aggression and commitment, but no lack of quality with Di Maria tormenting Brazil’s left-back Renan Lodi, who probably should have cut out De Paul’s pass for the winger’s goal.

Di Maria had a shot from 20 yards blocked while Messi fired just wide following a 40-yard run.

Brazil struggled to create anything of note and even when they had a free-kick from shooting range, Neymar couldn’t beat the wall.

When the hosts did finally maintain some pressure late in the first half, Everton’s deflected strike bobbled through to goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

Fractious, niggly

Tite was quick to act, bringing on forward Roberto Firmino for defensive midfielder Fred at half-time.

Richarlison had the ball in the net soon after but he was flagged offside.

And moments later Neymar teed up Richarlison but Martinez parried his near post effort.

Increasingly it descended into a fractious, niggly affair with little fluid play between fouls and a plethora of theatrics and petulant bickering.

It was playing into Argentina’s hands as they looked to run down the clock and hold onto their slender lead.

“Only one team wanted to play. It’s a trap we knew about. That’s not an excuse,” complained Brazil captain Thiago Silva.

“It’s difficult to play such a stop-start match.”

Brazil managed to up the pressure again at the end of the half but they lacked a killer touch against some full-blooded defending — Montiel even finished the game with his white sock soaked in blood.

When Brazil substitute Gabriel Barbosa fired a volley on target, Martinez was equal to it.

Messi slipped embarrassingly late on with a chance to clinch victory but it mattered little as moments later his teammates were tossing him in the air to celebrate their win.


Brazil Exceeds 500,000 COVID-19 Deaths

A gravedigger wearing protective clothing is silhoutted at sunset as he digs a grave for a victim of COVID-19 at the Caju cemetery in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 28, 2020. CARL DE SOUZA / AFP


Brazil on Saturday crossed the grim threshold of 500,000 coronavirus deaths, the country’s health minister said, trailing only the United States in lives lost to Covid-19.

“500,000 lives lost due to the pandemic that affects our Brazil and the world,” Marcelo Queiroga tweeted, without giving the death toll from the past 24 hours.

As of Friday, the Health Ministry had recorded 498,499 deaths, with a daily average of more than 2,000 in the last seven days.

According to a consortium of the country’s main media groups, the overall death toll rose to 500,022 Saturday afternoon. The government releases its toll after 2100 GMT.

Brazil, with a population of 212 million, became the second country after the United States to surpass 500,000 Covid-19 deaths.

The South American country experienced a second wave of the pandemic this year, when it topped 4,000 deaths per day.

Brazil now appears to be grappling with a third wave in its outbreak, with infections and deaths spiking.

According to the latest weekly report from the Fiocruz medical research foundation, the country is in a “critical” situation with a high number of deaths and the possibility of things worsening in coming weeks as winter arrives in the southern hemisphere.

Experts are concerned about the slow rollout of the country’s vaccination campaign, the spread of more aggressive virus variants and President Jair Bolsonaro’s hostility toward preventative measures like mask wearing and lockdown restrictions.

Queiroga tweeted that he was working “tirelessly to vaccinate all Brazilians in the shortest possible time and change this scenario that has plagued us for more than a year.”



Neymar Says Nike Claim Of Split Over Sex Assault Probe A ‘Lie’

Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian forward Neymar warms up prior to the UEFA Champions League first leg semi-final football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Manchester City at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on April 28, 2021. Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP


Neymar said Friday Nike’s claim that it parted ways with him last year because he refused to cooperate with its internal investigation into an employee’s accusation he sexually assaulted her was an “absurd lie.”

The allegation is the latest to stain the image of the Brazilian superstar, whose 222-million-euro ($270 million) transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 makes him the world’s most expensive footballer.

Nike said Thursday it had ended its sponsorship deal with Neymar over an employee’s claim he tried to force himself on her and his failure to cooperate with its investigation.

“(To) state that my contract (with Nike) was terminated because I did not contribute in good faith to an investigation is an absurd lie,” Neymar wrote on Instagram.

“I was not given the opportunity to defend myself. I was not given the opportunity to know who this person was that was allegedly offended. I don’t even know her. I’ve never had any kind of relationship or approach with this person.”

Nike said the alleged assault happened in 2016, but was only reported to the company in 2018.

The US sportswear giant had sponsored Neymar, 29, since he was a 13-year-old prodigy.

It did not give a reason when it terminated its deal with him in August 2020.

The superstar is now a poster boy for Puma. His deal with the German sportswear giant was announced in September 2020.

‘They did nothing’

The Nike employee accused Neymar of trying to force her to perform oral sex on him in a New York hotel room during a promotional trip for a new line of sneakers, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first broke the story.

Neymar denied the accusation, and said Nike had nevertheless continued sending him on promotional tours.

“In 2017 I traveled again to the USA for another advertising campaign, with the same people, and nothing was told to me, nothing changed!” he wrote.

“In 2017, 2018, 2019 we made trips, advertising campaigns, countless shooting sections. And they told me nothing. Such a serious matter and they did nothing.”

In a previous statement, a Neymar spokeswoman said he and Nike had split for commercial reasons.

The player’s father accused the company of “blackmail.”

“It’s all very strange” that the accusation only came to light years later, after Neymar left Nike, he told Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.

Tarnished star

Nike said in a statement it was prepared to investigate in 2018 when the woman first came forward, but “respected the employee’s initial desire to keep this matter confidential and avoid an investigation.”

The firm therefore did not go further until 2019, when she expressed an interest in pursuing the matter, it said.

That was the same year another woman filed a rape complaint against Neymar in his native Brazil.

He vehemently denied that accusation, and the case was eventually dropped.

Neymar is currently in Brazil training with the national team north of Rio de Janeiro ahead of two upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

The superstar seemed “normal, the same as always,” teammate Emerson told a news conference.

Neymar extended his contract with French champions PSG earlier this month, through the 2024-2025 season.

With his on-pitch exploits and huge following on social media, Neymar is one of the biggest names in sports.

But his shine has often been tarnished.

His image as an eternal spoiled child was revived late last year by rumors of a huge year-end party he organized in Brazil in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

He has also raised eyebrows with his alleged diving, hard-partying lifestyle, and love of bling, which critics say contrasts with the relative lack of it in his trophy case.


US Asks Brazil For ‘Immediate’ Action On Amazon

In this file photo taken on August 15, 2020, smoke rises from an illegally lit fire in Amazon rainforest reserve, south of Novo Progresso in Para state, Brazil. A coalition of 230 environmental organisations and Brazilian agribusiness companies wants the country to regain its leadership in combating climate change and called on Jair Bolsonaro’s government to present “more ambitious” goals at the next. PHOTO: CARL DE SOUZA / AFP


The United States on Friday welcomed Brazil’s renewed promise to end illegal deforestation but urged immediate action to protect the Amazon, a major factor in global climate change.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, a longtime scourge of environmentalists, in a letter to President Joe Biden ahead of next week’s US-led climate summit voiced support for a previous Brazilian goal of stopping illegal deforestation by 2030.

Bolsonaro’s “recommitment to eliminating illegal deforestation is important,” US climate envoy John Kerry wrote on Twitter.

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“We look forward to immediate actions and engagement with indigenous populations and civil society so this announcement can deliver tangible results.”

Bolsonaro, one of the closest international allies of former US president Donald Trump, said his efforts on deforestation showed “unequivocal” support for Biden’s efforts.

But Bolsonaro also appealed for “considerable” international support to help Brazil meet the goal.

One of the most prominent defenders of the Amazon, indigenous leader Raoni Metuktire, voiced skepticism over Bolsonaro’s promise in a video addressed to Biden that warned of encroachments by loggers.

“The president of this country has told many lies,” he said.

“If this bad president says something to you, ignore him. Say that Raoni already talked to me.”

During the presidential campaign Biden called for $20 billion in international funding to stop Brazil from “tearing down the forest” with a risk of economic consequences if it does not comply. Bolsonaro at the time denounced the then candidate’s threats.

Brazil had committed under the 2015 Paris accord to end illegal deforestation by 2030 but the goal was under a cloud due to the election of Bolsonaro, who has opened protected lands to mining and agribusiness.

The Amazon and other rainforests are crucial to the battle against climate change as they serve as giant sinks of carbon in the atmosphere.

In the 12 months to August 2020, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased 9.5 percent, destroying an area bigger than Jamaica, according to government data.

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said on Friday in an interview with AFP that if Brazil received a billion dollars in aid from the international community, it would be able to reduce illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest by up to 40 percent.

The money would serve to strengthen “control actions (against illegal deforestation) and, at the same time, to create an economic alternative” for 25 million people who live in the northern Amazon region, he said.

That region is one of the poorest in Brazil despite its vast natural resources.


Brazil’s Foreign And Defense Ministers Resign

In this file photo taken on February 4, 2020 Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo (R) speaks next to Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva during a press conference regarding the evacuation of Brazilian citizens from Wuhan –the region affected by the coronavirus in China– at the Planalto Palace, Brasilia.  Sergio LIMA / AFP


Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro shook up the top levels of his administration Monday with the exit of his foreign and defense ministers, as the far-right leader faced mounting pressure from a deadly surge of Covid-19.

Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva announced his surprise departure in a brief statement, hours after a government source told AFP that Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo had submitted his resignation amid controversy over the government’s problems securing more Covid-19 vaccines.

Azevedo e Silva, a 67-year-old army reserve general, and Araujo, a 53-year-old career diplomat, had both been in their posts since Bolsonaro took office in January 2019.

Azevedo e Silva’s exit, unlike Araujo’s, was unexpected, and speculation swirled over the reason.

What is clear is that Bolsonaro has been on a purge, amid growing dissatisfaction — including from key allies in the business sector — over his handling of a pandemic that has now claimed more than 312,000 lives in Brazil, the second-highest death toll worldwide, after the United States.

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Last week, he installed his fourth health minister of the pandemic, and the heads of state-run oil company Petrobras, state electricity company Eletrobras, state-controlled bank Banco do Brasil and the national statistics institute, IBGE, have all fallen since the start of the year.


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


“The government is extremely fragile, as demonstrated by the instability at the top,” said professor Mauricio Santoro of Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ).

“It’s safe to say there is a crisis in the administration, beyond one or two ministries.”

– Vaccine row –
The latest shake-up came the week after Bolsonaro replaced former health minister Eduardo Pazuello, an army general, with cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga.

The president, who has long defied expert advice on the pandemic, now appears to be finding his attacks on lockdowns, face masks and particularly vaccines could be a liability as he gears up to run for re-election in October 2022.

Brazil is struggling to deal with an exploding number of severe Covid-19 cases and deaths that have pushed its hospitals to the breaking point, at a time when vaccines are finally helping some other countries bring the pandemic under control.

Vaccine shortages have put the government far off pace to meet the health ministry’s target of immunizing the full adult population by the end of the year.

Araujo came in for criticism for the government’s struggles to secure more vaccines.

A key member of the government’s so-called “ideological wing,” he admired former US president Donald Trump, and shared his hardline supporters’ disgust with “globalism.”

He raised eyebrows with his attacks on “climate-change ideology,” “gender ideology” and, since last year, “Covid-ism.”

“Globalists,” he said last October, “are taking a disease caused by a virus, Covid, and trying to turn it into a huge prescriptive apparatus to reformat and control the entire planet’s social and economic relations.”

His vaccine diplomacy, or lack thereof, has come in for criticism.

The administration faces questions over its rejection of an offer last August to buy 70 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — which Bolsonaro joked could “turn you into an alligator” — and its tense relations with Brazil’s top trade partner, China.

Chinese-developed CoronaVac is currently the most-administered Covid-19 vaccine in Brazil, but only because the government of Sao Paulo state defied resistance from the Bolsonaro administration to acquire it.

Araujo, who took up the foreign minister post vowing to “resist Maoist China” and its plan “to dominate the world,” had repeatedly provoked squabbles with Beijing.


Political Rivals In Brazil Announce Homemade COVID-19 Vaccines

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 06, 2021, a health worker administers a vaccine dose at a drive-through vaccination center at the Sambodrome Rio Carnival venue, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. CARL DE SOUZA / AFP


The race to produce the first Covid-19 vaccine that is “100 percent Brazilian” was launched on Friday with more than a hint of political posturing.

Sao Paulo’s Butantan biomedical institute announced in the morning it is developing a vaccine and expects to start using it in July.

Several hours later a minister said President Jair Bolsonaro’s government had submitted a request for authorization to start clinical trials on a different vaccine.

Butantan is the largest vaccine producer in Brazil and makes the CoronaVac shot produced by Chinese firm Sinovac — the most widely used against the pandemic in the South American country.

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The institute is also heavily backed by Sao Paulo state governor Joao Doria, who is widely expected to challenge Bolsonaro in next year’s general election.

“The results in pre-clinical tests were excellent,” said Butantan director Dimas Covas.

The vaccine needs to be authorized by Brazil’s regulator Anvisa before it can start clinical trials in April.

Bolsonaro seems to be one step ahead of Doria in that respect, though.

His science and research minister, Marcos Pontes, a former astronaut, announced the federal government had “invested” in several Brazilian vaccines and had already requested authorization to begin clinical trials for one of them.

That one has been developed by the Ribeiro Preto faculty of medicine in Sao Paulo.

Pontes said the government will soon seek authorization for clinical trials for two more vaccines.

“It must be a coincidence that (Doria) presented this other possibility in Sao Paulo, and it’s good for the country, we need several national vaccines,” said Pontes.

Brazil has faced a shortfall in vaccine doses due to import delays at the worst possible time, with record numbers of daily infections and deaths registered this week.

It has now recorded 12.3 million cases — 300,000 of them fatal — among its 212 million population.

The country only began vaccinating in mid-January. Other than CoronaVac, the only other authorized jab is AstraZeneca.

But the competing projects should allow Brazil to accelerate its vaccine rollout that has been widely criticized for being slow.

Butantan will be able to produce 40 million doses from May to July and 100 million by the end of the year, Doria said.

While the CoronaVac shot is produced using imported materials, ButanVac will be “a vaccine entirely developed and produced in Brazil,” added Doria.

ButanVac, which will also be produced in Thailand and Vietnam and distributed to poorer countries, “is the response to those that deny science and life,” said Doria, in a barb at Bolsonaro.

The far-right leader spent months downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus. He opposed preventative measures such as mask-wearing, restrictions on the economy, and even cast doubt on the efficacy of CoronaVac.


COVID-19: EU Races To Catch Up On Vaccines As Brazil’s Death Toll Cross 300,000

EU Flag



The European Union will look for ways to end its vaccine struggles at a summit on Thursday, as a COVID-19 surge takes the death toll in Brazil past 300,000.

A crucial tool in the fight against the pandemic, vaccines were in the spotlight again with AstraZeneca revising down the efficacy of its shot from 79 to 76 percent after a US agency raised concerns about outdated numbers.

AstraZeneca’s jab is also at the centre of the EU’s vaccine woes, with an infuriated Brussels tightening export controls after the firm failed to deliver the doses it had promised to the bloc.

EU leaders will meet via videoconference on Thursday to discuss AstraZeneca supplies, as well as new vaccine export rules that will weigh how needy countries are in terms of infection rates, how many jabs they have, and how readily they export doses to the bloc.

A logo for the European Union


“Open roads should run in both directions,” said European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

Britain, which has raced ahead with its immunisation drive, is seen as one of the targets of the new export rules after a bitter spat over vaccine supplies.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the EU risked long-term damage to its reputation if it imposed “a blockade”.

The talks come as Germany, France, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands tighten restrictions to control surges in cases.

Mass vaccination programmes are considered vital to ending the pandemic, which has claimed more than 2.7 million lives around the world, hammered the global economy, and left much of humanity under punishing restrictions.

“We were just waiting to be all together again because we were really sad to be divided like that, floor by floor,” said Lydie, a 91-year-old resident of a retirement home in France’s Val-de-Marne, where vaccinations have allowed an easing of curbs.

“There was no joy. Now it’s very good. We are happy.”

– ‘Locked up’ –
Governments are trying to ramp up vaccinations, racing against the virus which is surging once again in many parts of the world.

Brazil’s Covid-19 death toll passed 300,000 on Wednesday, the second-highest number of fatalities in the world, with its hospitals pushed to the brink.

At a demonstration in Rio de Janeiro marking 300,000 virus deaths in Brazil, protesters held signs that read “Shame” and laid 30 roses on symbolic patient beds in front of a hospital.

Mexico, another hard-hit Latin American nation, neared 200,000 deaths, as authorities pressed on with a vaccination programme.

“How have we spent (the pandemic)? Locked up,” said Miguel Molina, 75, who got a jab in Mexico City.

“I have (spent) a year and three months locked up, without going out. This is the first time I go out.

– ‘Bump in the road’ –
The AstraZeneca shot was hailed as a breakthrough because it is cheaper and easier to store and transport compared with other vaccines.

But beyond production and supply issues, it has faced other challenges that have dented confidence.

AstraZeneca was forced to review its US trials and then slightly revise down the jab’s efficacy from 79 percent to 76 percent after an American agency raised concerns about outdated information.

Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci had said the discrepancy was a “bump in the road” and that data would show it is “a good vaccine”.

Where the EU vaccine rollout has stuttered, there has been huge progress in the United States — the world’s worst-hit nation.

Around 70 percent of Americans aged 65 or over — more than 38 million people — have received at least one dose, and hospital admissions for Covid-19 in that group are down 85 percent since early January.

But the pandemic threat is far from over, illustrated by the recent decision to bar overseas fans from the already delayed Tokyo Olympics.

The torch relay for the Games got off to a low-key start Thursday and organisers hope it will build excitement.

But Tetsuya Ozawa, among a small group of fans, told AFP it was not much fun without spectators.

“There would have been more excitement if there wasn’t coronavirus.”

Confusion As Brazil Faces COVID-19 Surge With Two Health Ministers

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 11, 2021 health workers care for patients infected with COVID-19 at the full emergency room of the Nossa Senhora da Conceiao hospital in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul State, in southern Brazil, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by SILVIO AVILA / AFP)


As Brazil struggles with surging Covid-19 cases, President Jair Bolsonaro’s government can’t figure out who the health minister is: the one sacked last week or the still-unofficial replacement.

The country has recorded the second-most coronavirus deaths, after the United States, and the situation is worsening. Brazil’s average daily death toll — currently the highest worldwide — has more than tripled since the start of the year, to 2,259.

In the middle of this desperate situation, Bolsonaro announced last Monday he was firing health minister and army general Eduardo Pazuello and replacing him with cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga.

But a week later, neither the widely criticized outgoing minister’s departure nor the incomer’s appointment has been made official in the government gazette.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic… and we have two health ministers. Which in reality means we don’t have any,” said Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, one of Bolsonaro’s fiercest critics.

“The incoming one isn’t authorized to act as minister, and the outgoing one doesn’t have any actual power.”

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Brazilian media reports Bolsonaro is scrambling to find a way to keep Pazuello’s ministerial immunity, to protect him from being prosecuted for the ministry’s shortcomings during his 10-month tenure.

Pazuello notably faces investigation for failing to ensure oxygen supplies to the northern city of Manaus, where there were horrific scenes in January of Covid-19 patients suffocating to death as hospitals ran out.

Pazuello and Queiroga attended several meetings and public events together last week, taking turns speaking.

It is still unclear how different the new minister’s approach will be to Covid-19, which is again pushing many Brazilian hospitals to the breaking point.

Experts say the latest wave is being fueled by a local variant of the virus that is suspected to be more contagious.

Rio de Janeiro, where more than 90 percent of intensive care beds are full, announced that from Friday only essential shops will be allowed to open and an overnight curfew would be imposed for ten days, while beaches will remain closed.

Queiroga will be Bolsonaro’s fourth health minister of the pandemic.

The first two, both doctors, fell out with the far-right president over his defiance of expert advice on containing the deadly virus.

Further complicating Bolsonaro’s plans, Queiroga must formally remove his name from the ownership of two private health clinics he manages in his home state of Paraiba, in northeastern Brazil, before starting the new job.

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.


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.”


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.


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.

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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.

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“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.