International report

The hand-to-hand struggle to fight Covid in Brazil's Amazonas state

Audio 07:06
Nine-year-old Davi and Cintia, residents of Manaus; both infected with coronavirus and struggling to pay for oxygen to keep the boy alive.
Nine-year-old Davi and Cintia, residents of Manaus; both infected with coronavirus and struggling to pay for oxygen to keep the boy alive. © @anapaula_apls
By: Sam Schramski
9 min

A coronavirus variant from Manaus in northern Brazil, first detected in Japan earlier in January, is now the dominant form of the virus in the hard-hit South American city. As grave diggers struggle to keep pace with the soaring death toll, many residents are forced to fund their own supplies of vital oxygen.

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Manaus, the capital of Brazil's northern Amazonas state, has been hit hard by the pandemic's resurgence.

The city of some 2.2 million has seen its hospitals run out of beds and life-giving oxygen with which to treat the stricken.

The variant's quick spread confirms fears that it is more contagious than the original form of the virus, said Felipe Naveca, who studies coronavirus mutations in northern Amazonas state.

The variant which was first detected early this month in people arriving in Japan from Brazil "is already dominant in Manaus," he said.

Naveca is a researcher with the Leonidas e Maria Deane Institute of Brazil's Fiocruz research foundation.

He said the new variant was present in 51 percent of samples taken from coronavirus patients in December. By 13 January that number was 91 percent.

Now spreading beyond the state capital

"Moreover, it has spread into the interior of the state. We have found it in 11 of 13 towns that we have studied," said Naveca.

Three cases of infection with the new variant were detected Tuesday in the vast South American country's Sao Paulo state -- the most populous with 46 million inhabitants.

Brazil has recorded more than 218,000 deaths due to the coronavirus -- a toll second only to that of the United States.

"The indications already were that this variant is more contagious as it has similar mutations to the ones linked to greater transmissibility observed in the virus variants from Britain and South Africa," said Naveca.

"Now, data on the very high frequency with which it has been found reinforces the suspicion that it is more contagious."

 

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