Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Brazil's Covid outbreak a global threat (March 3, 2021)

 Brazilian Covid-19 deaths are soaring, and hospitals are nearly overwhelmed, reports the Guardian. No other nation that experienced such a major outbreak is still grappling with record-setting death tolls and a health care system on the brink of collapse, reports the New York Times

Deaths have hit a new high, averaging 1,208 per day over the past week. Brazil recorded more than 1,700 Covid-19 deaths yesterday, the highest single-day toll of the pandemic. Eighteen of Brazil's 26 states and one federal district have ICU's at over 80% capacity, federal and state data show. Nine of those are at the edge of collapse at over 90% capacity, reports CNN.

Health experts and state officials have asked the government to impose stricter lockdown measures to reduce coronavirus transmission -- and "avert a humanitarian catastrophe" -- (Washington PostCNN) But President Jair Bolsonaro's reluctance to implement restrictive measures, and dismissive attacks on face masks, means a coordinated national effort is unlikely. Individual cities and states have set their own policies over the past year, reports Al Jazeera. Some cities have imposed new restrictions, such as a curfew in Brasilia and the closure of nonessential businesses in Porto Alegre, though leaders have been extremely hesitant to fully shut down. State governors are now joining together to buy vaccines and bypass the federal government, which has been slow to roll out its vaccine program.

On a per-capita basis, the rate of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Brazil since the pandemic began is roughly comparable to that of other regional countries including Peru and Colombia. "But Brazil poses a uniquely urgent and truly global emergency," writes Ilona Szabó de Carvalho in Americas Quarterly. On the one hand, Brazil's large population makes it a particularly dangerous place for the virus to run rampant – fueling the rise of new variants. "And second: Because Bolsonaro has shown no willingness to change his destructive rhetoric or policies – raising fears that Brazil could become even more of an outlier in coming months as much of the rest of the world gets the virus under control."

The global implications are significant, say experts, pointing to the potential for the virus to mutate, as it already has in the P.1. variant that has devastated Manaus in the Amazon. Laboratory experiments suggest that P.1 could weaken the protective effect of a Chinese vaccine now in use in Brazil. (Washington PostNew York Times) The new variant is 1.4 to 2.2 times more contagious than versions of the virus previously found in Brazil, and 25% to 61% more capable of reinfecting people who had been infected by an earlier strain. (Wall Street Journal)

The risk of new, potentially more lethal, variantes makes Brazil’s rampant coronavirus outbreak a global threat, according to one of the country's leading scientists. Speaking to the Guardian, Miguel Nicolelis, a Duke University neuroscientist who is tracking the crisis, urged the international community to challenge the Brazilian government over its failure to contain the epidemic.

Brazil's health system is actually excellent at vaccinations -- the failure with regards to coronavirus vaccinations is instead political, writes Vanessa Barbara in a New York Times op-ed.

News Briefs

  • Foro Civico, a coalition of Venezuelan civil society organizations, announced a list of 15 individuals to be candidates for rectors of the National Electoral Council (CNE), the authority that oversees elections in the country. It is a major step forward in a campaign for free and fair elections, writes Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights
  • A new CNE, would have a seven-year mandate to oversee electoral processes in the country. While the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) controls 90% of seats in the new National Assembly, Efecto Cocuyo reports that some civil society organizations are cautiously optimistic that this could present a new opportunity. (Venezuela Weekly)
  • The Foro Civico’s 15 candidates for CNE include some of the most-respected electoral experts in the country, notes Ramsey. The coalition includes Venezuelan human rights NGOs, academics, faith groups, business leaders, labor unions, and other independent civil society organizations. 
  • The EUs chief diplomat in Venezuela left the country yesterday, a week after Nicolás Maduro's government ordered her expulsion following the EU’s decision to impose sanctions on several Venezuelan officials accused of undermining democracy or violating human rights, reports the Associated Press.
  • The EU sanctions bring the overall number of Venezuelans sanctioned by the bloc to 55, according to the latest Venezuela Weekly
  • A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers are calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to appoint a special envoy for Venezuela, reports The Hill.
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó spoke with Blinken yesterday, the highest-level U.S. contact with Guaidó since Biden took office in January, reports Reuters. The Biden administration is seeking ways to increase international pressure on Maduro in order to secure a peaceful, democratic transition of power, Blinken told Guaidó according to the Miami Herald.
  • An increase in the number of reports of illegal invasions of homes and commercial establishments in Venezuela during the pandemic has revealed the ever-widening criminal portfolio managed by the militant civilian groups known as colectivos, reports InSight Crime.
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández' government will present a criminal complaint regarding possible fraud and misuse of public funds by former government officials, in relation to a massive IMF loan accorded with the administration of former President Mauricio Macri. (El País, Chequeado, Reuters)
  • The $57 million loan was the largest in IMF history, but wound up mostly financing capital flight. Argentina's government owes the IMF approximately $5 billion this year, but is seeking to postpone payments. Negotiations between the two sides were launched last August, but there has been little if any progress, writes Arturo Porzecanski in Americas Quarterly. The Fernández administration is unwilling to make spending cuts requested by the lender, particularly ahead of October legislative elections and in a pandemic context. But another default is not necessarily in the works, according to Porzecanski.
  • A new law passed last month by Argentina's lawmakers would require congressional approval of new foreign debt, as well as new IMF programs. (Nodal)
  • Haiti's constitutional crisis has brought much of Haitian society to a standstill: the education system has been paralysed and businesses are running at half-speed. Associations representing the country’s judges have called for a work stoppage, writes Ralph Thomassaint Joseph at Al Jazeera.
El Salvador
  • After President Nayib Bukele's massive win in legislative elections last Sunday, observers are watching to see how he governs with no viable opposition. Salvadorans may be willing to overlook President Nayib Bukele's "caudillo-like tendencies" if they continue to feel that he is looking out for them, reports the Economist. (See yesterday's post and Monday's.) 
  • U.S. President Joe Biden must end U.S. policy shoring up Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández' corrupt and authoritarian government, argues Dana Frank in the Washington Post. "Biden’s policies have veered very little from those advanced under Barack Obama and Donald Trump — two administrations that only shored up Hernández."
  • Thousands of women are demanding justice for what they say were forced sterilization procedures under Peru's Fujimori dictatorship. Indigenous Peruvians are widely recognized as particular victims of the Fujimori regime. But the crime of forced sterilization has been underplayed in Peru’s post-Fujimori reckoning with the past, writes Ñusta Carranza Ko in the Conversation.
  • Colombia has become the first country in the Americas to receive a shipment of coronavirus vaccines through the United Nations-backed COVAX program. The country received 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Governments across the region have turned to Russia’s Sputnik V drug amid fears of being left behind in the global scramble for vaccines, reports Reuters. As many wealthier developed nations have signed big deals with large drugmakers like Pfizer Inc and AstraZeneca PLC, countries in Latin America have faced difficulties securing adequate vaccine supplies.
  • Uruguay, the last country in South America to receive delivery of coronavirus vaccines, started its inoculation campaign Monday, reports AFP.
  • Covid-19 has made the post of health minister a risky one in Latin America, reports Nodal. At least 20 health chiefs in the region have been forced to resign since the pandemic started a year ago.
  • Chile's new constitution is likely to be drafted by "moderates," as the country's political left has failed to coalesce behind a single list of candidates for the upcoming rewrite, reports Bloomberg.
  • Dozens of Chilean women became pregnant last year after taking one of 276,890 packets of oral contraceptives provided by the public health care system — and later quietly recalled over defects that affected effectiveness, reports the New York Times. Abortion is strictly limited in Chile, which means these women must follow through with their unplanned pregnancies. The case has brought the debate about women’s reproductive rights and access to abortion into sharp focus.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he had no differences with his U.S. counterpart in their first bilateral earlier this week. He said Biden was open to exploring his proposals on a temporary worker program and helping Mexico obtain more vaccines, reports the Associated Press.
  • AMLO's continued backing of his party's Guerrero state gubernatorial candidate, Félix Salgado Macedonio, despite accusations of rape, is creating significant cracks inside the governing Morena party, a potential challenge to the president's popularity, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's briefs on how feminists have become some of AMLO's main opponents.)
  • With higher profits and lower risks than the United States, Europe has emerged recently as arguably the most important cocaine market in the world, according to an investigation by InSight Crime and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime. Traffickers face enormous risks in moving drugs to the United States, whose government has spent billions of dollars on seizing drug loads and extraditing traffickers, said InSight Crime Co-director Jeremy McDermott at a recent seminar presenting the findings. As a result, Colombian traffickers have come to prefer lucrative European markets.
More Brazil
  • The Brazil Research Initiative reviews several research pieces on Brazilian democratic institutions under stress, including an article by Joaquim Falcão and João Carlos Cochlar in Interesse Nacional that "does a great job of laying out the tensions generated by Brazil’s high court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF), in the current political environment."
  • Bunny Wailer, the co-founder and last living member of Jamaican reggae group the Wailers, who took Bob Marley to global stardom, has died aged 73 -- Guardian. (See also Washington Post.)

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

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