Brazil faces the coronavirus abyss. It has the highest daily deaths in the world and the COVID-19 crisis is going to get worse, experts warn.

brazil covid deaths
Cemetery workers in full protective gear lower a coffin that contain the remains of a person who died from complications related to COVID-19 at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

  • Brazil’s seven-day average of daily COVID-19 deaths accounts for 26% of the world’s total.
  • The situation is bleak and is set to only get worse, according to the Associated Press.
  • A daily death toll of 4,000 is “right around the corner,” a Sao Paolo doctor warned.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Brazil is facing the coronavirus abyss. Deaths are spiraling and crematoriums are struggling to keep up, according to reports.

The county currently has far more daily COVID-19 deaths than any other nation in the world, the Associated Press reported.

Brazil reported 3,368 new coronavirus-related deaths on Saturday, according to Worldometers.

The seven-day average – 2,542 daily deaths – accounts for over a quarter (26 percent) of the world’s total death toll, according to Our World In Data.

Read more: Scientists are racing to develop new kinds of drugs that could fight this pandemic and protect us from the next one

There have been so many deaths that burials are happening in Sao Paulo cemeteries every few minutes, CNN reported.

Crematoriums can’t keep up, the media outlet reported. At one facility, CNN said, the demand for cremations exceeded its daily capability by three times.

The situation is bleak and, according to experts, is set to only get worse.

“We have surpassed levels never imagined for a country with a public health care system, a history of efficient immunization campaigns, and health workers who are second to none in the world,” Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of Neurobiology, said in an interview with AP. “The next stage is the health system collapse.”

The healthcare system is buckling under the pressure, AP reported. Almost all intensive care units are at or near capacity, the news agency said.

Daily deaths could also soon reach peaks of 4,000, an expert told AP. “Four thousand deaths a day seems to be right around the corner,” Dr. Jose Antonio Curiati, a supervisor at a Sao Paulo hospital, said.

A highly contagious variant is wreaking havoc, contributing to the country’s 300,000+ COVID-19 deaths so far.

President Jair Bolsonaro’s critics are also placing the blame on the leader’s resistance to introducing lockdown restrictions.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly said that lockdowns aren’t viable for the economy and has instead continued to promote baseless COVID-19 treatments, The New York Times reported.

He has referred to governors and mayors who planned to introduce lockdown measures as “tyrants,” BBC reported.

Earlier this month, Bolsonaro told Brazilians to “stop whining” about the virus.

His critics, including former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have been vocal in their opposition to his handling of the pandemic. “It’s the biggest genocide in our history,” Lula said.

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President of Brazil, presiding over one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the world, tells people to ‘stop whining’

Brazil coronavirus
Relatives of a deceased person mourn during a mass burial of coronavirus victims in Manaus, Brazil, in May 2020.

  • Brazil’s president told people to “stop whining” as it battles a devastating coronavirus outbreak.
  • Many badly hit countries are now controlling the virus, but Brazil saw record deaths this week.
  • Bolsonaro downplayed the virus and spread misinformation, even as bodies were left in the streets.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Brazil’s populist president told people to “stop whining” as he presides over what is arguably the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the world.

Jair Bolsonaro addressed crowds in the Brazilian capital of Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, where he said, “Stop whining. How long are you going to keep crying about it?,” according to the BBC.

“How much longer will you stay at home and close everything? No one can stand it anymore. We regret the deaths, again, but we need a solution,” Bolsonaro added.

Jair Bolsonaro
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, Brazil, on February 24, 2021.

Brazil has the world’s second-highest death toll from the coronavirus, with 260,970 people dead as of Friday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

It also has the third-highest number of cases globally, with more than 10,793,000 people having tested positive. It’s behind only the US and India.

Brazil coronavirus
Relatives of Neide Rodrigues, 71, who died of COVID-19, mourn in May 2020 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

And, unlike many of the other worst-hit countries in the world, Brazil isn’t currently seeing a decline in its cases.

We can see that cases in the US and India have been falling:

US coronavirus cases
Daily new coronavirus cases in the US as of March 4 2021.

India Coronavirus cases March 2021
Daily new coronavirus cases in India as of March 4 2021.

But in Brazil, there isn’t any similar drop:

Brazil coronavirus cases March 2021
Daily new coronavirus cases in Brazil as of March 3, 2021.

On the day that Bolsonaro was speaking, Brazil recorded its second-highest number of deaths during the pandemic. 1,699 died in 24 hours  – second only to the 1,910 recorded the day before, the BBC reported.

Bolsonaro has downplayed the virus throughout the pandemic, spreading information and at one point claiming that Brazilians are immune.

He has endorsed medicines that have been proven not to work against the virus and encouraged anti-lockdown protests.

Meanwhile, the country has dug mass graves for its coronavirus dead, and bodies have been pictured on the streets.

Brazil coronavirus
Aerial view of coffins being buried during the coronavirus pandemic in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil, in April 2020.

João Doria, the governor of the state of São Paulo, spoke to the BBC after Bolsonaro’s comments on Thursday, where he called the president “a crazy guy” who attacks “governors and mayors who want to buy vaccines and help the country to end this pandemic.”

“How can we face the problem, seeing people die every day? The health system in Brazil is on the verge of collapse,” he said.

Brazil is also battling a new variant of the virus, which is thought to be more contagious and to have originated in the city of Manaus. 

The variant may also infect people who have already had the virus, researchers say.

Campaigners have warned that Brazil’s outbreak could become a “genocide” for the country’s indigenous people, who saw a higher death rate than the rest of the population. Bolsonaro’s environmental policies had already impacted on their fragile societies.

Brazil coronavirus
Satere-mawe indigenous men navigate the Ariau river during the coronavirus pandemic at the Sahu-Ape community in Brazil’s Amazonas State in May 2020.

Bolsonaro has looked to reduce environmental protections, including reallocating land pledged to indigenous tribes and promising during his election campaign to build a highway through the Amazon rainforest and power plants within it.

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9 key questions answered about the worrying coronavirus variants spreading around the world, including whether vaccines block them, how contagious they are, and when they reached the US

double mask
Brendan Williams, president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, puts on a surgical mask while carrying another mask.

  • Experts worldwide are urgently studying three coronavirus variants to understand what risks they pose.
  • One variant first identified in the UK, one in South Africa, and one in Brazil are probably more contagious than the original virus.
  • They have caused cases to surge and the three nations to lock down. Here are nine key questions about the variants, answered.

Experts are urgently investigating three different coronavirus variants – found in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil – that have caused explosive outbreaks and are spreading around the world.

Often, small genetic changes that a virus makes when it replicates, called mutations, don’t affect its behavior. But these three coronavirus variants, each evolved separately, appear to have developed similar characteristics that affect how they spread.

Here’s what we know so far

All the variants contain mutations in the code for their spike protein, the part of the virus that it uses to infect cells. Alterations in this area could enable the virus to infect cells more easily, and the spike protein is the target for COVID-19 vaccines developed by Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson&Johnson and AstraZeneca.

With information frequently changing, we’ve compiled a list of everything we know so far about the variants, answering nine key questions, such as whether vaccines work on them and whether they’ve spread to the US.

Read more: What it actually means that a new coronavirus strain is more transmissible – and how that changes your chances of getting sick

The variants were first detected in the UK, South Africa, and Japan 

  • UK – B.1.1.7

B.1.1.7 was first detected in two people in south-east England. It was reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) on December 14.

B.1.17 has been identified in 82 countries worldwide, including the US.

  • South Africa – 501.Y.V2

501.Y.V2 was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, in samples dating back to the beginning of October 2020. It was reported to the WHO on December 18.

The UK identified two cases of 501.Y.V2 on December 22, in people who had come into contact with someone who had traveled from South Africa.

501.Y.V2 has been found in 40 countries globally, including the US.

  • Brazil -P.1

The variant found in Brazil was first detected in four people in Japan, who had traveled from Brazil on January 2. It was identified by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases on January 6, and reported to the WHO that weekend.

It has been found in 28 countries worldwide, including the US.

The variants are more contagious

The B.1.1.7 variant, first found in the UK, is thought to be 30% to 50% more contagious than other forms of the virus, according to Public Health England estimates. This means it is 30-50% better at spreading from person to person than other coronavirus variants.

501.Y.V2, the variant found in South Africa, is thought to be 50% more contagious than other variants, because it has spread 50% faster, becoming the most common strain in people with COVID-19 in coastal regions of South Africa.

P.1, found in Brazil, is probably more contagious –it was initially detected in Amazonas, north-west Brazil, on December 4 and by January 21, 91% of people with COVID-19 in the region were infected with P.1, according to the World Health Organization

It’s not known precisely why the variants are more contagious

Research is ongoing, but working theories are that both variants have changes in the spike protein, meaning they can potentially infect cells more easily.  The swabs of people infected with B.1.1.7 and 501.Y.V2 also appear to have more viral particles than the original virus, known as a higher viral load. The more viral particles an infected person expels, the more likely they are to infect others.

The variant first found in South Africa – 501.Y.V2 – has been shown in early lab studies to sometimes avoid antibodies, produced by the body to fight off infection. If this happens in humans, it could mean it infects people more easily and could increase the likelihood of catching coronavirus more than once.

Mutations called E484K and K417T could be responsible for this – the variant found in Brazil have them too. B.1.1.7, the variant first found in the UK, doesn’t have this particular mutation.

pfizer covid 19 vaccine distribution
Medical assistant April Massaro gives a first dose of Pfizer BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to nurse Alice Fallago at Desert Valley Hospital on Thursday, December 17, 2020 in Victorville, California.

They could be more deadly

The variants first found in the UK and South Africa at present do not seem to cause more severe disease, the WHO said on January 11. However, a more contagious variant could cause more deaths, because more people get sick.  

It is unclear whether or not P.1. is more deadly. This is “under investigation”, according to the WHO on February 21.

Adam Kucharski, an associate professor at the London School for Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, has explained to Insider why the ability to spread more easily could make the variant more dangerous than a deadlier strain.

There is evidence from South Africa that when hospitals became under pressure, the risk of death increased.

The UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) reported a model on January 21 that showed someone infected with B.1.1.7 is 30 to 40 per cent more likely to die than someone with a different variant, but there is a lot of uncertainty around the numbers.

Human behavior can help stop them spreading

The WHO has said that because the variants are more contagious, everyone should double down on precautions that stop their spread, such as social distancing, hand-washing, mask wearing, and avoiding crowds.

“Human behavior has a very large effect on transmission – probably much larger than any biological differences in SARS-CoV-2 variants,” Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, previously told Insider.

Vaccines will probably work

It is too soon to know for sure, but it appears unlikely that the mutations will render vaccines totally useless. 

The vaccines available all target the coronavirus spike protein. The spike protein has multiple sites that all cause different immune responses in the body. Mutations could affect some of the sites, but are unlikely to affect all of them.

Pfizer said January 29 that its vaccine should work against some particular mutations that the variants found in South Africa and the UK have, after it tested its vaccine on lab-made variants. Further lab studies on February 18 have shown that Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine worked less well against lab-made viruses that mimicked the variant in South Africa.  The lab-made variants were not the exact variants found in the UK or South Africa.  

Moderna ran similar tests, and announced January 25 that its vaccine held up well against the mutations found in B.1.1.7, but less well against the mutations found in 501.Y.V2, the variant found in South Africa. Again it used lab-made variants.

The one dose COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson&Johnson was less effective in clinical trials in South Africa, where 95% infections are caused by 501.Y.V2. 

Existing vaccines could also be updated and tailored to a new variant within weeks or months. Or you may require a booster shot.

Moderna said January 25 that it will develop a new version of its COVID-19 shot to fight 501.Y.V2, the variant found in South Africa. Pfizer said January 26 that it is already working on booster shots that protect against coronavirus variants. 

  • B.1.1.7 – first found in UK

Experts think the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca will protect people against the B.1.1.7 variant found in the UK. The vaccines haven’t been tested against real-life coronavirus B.1.1.7 variants yet.

  • 501.Y.V2 – first found in South Africa

Studies suggest that the variant can escape some antibodies in the lab – researchers don’t yet know how, or if, this will affect how well vaccines work in people. 

The vaccines haven’t been tested against real-life coronavirus 501.Y.V2 variants yet.

Tulio de Oliveira, who is leading South Africa’s scientific effort to understand the variant, told the Financial Times that his group thinks a vaccine could be a little less effective, but is optimistic. “Between all the varieties of vaccines that are coming to the market, we still have strong belief that some of them will be very effective,” de Oliveira said.

Read more: What’s coming next for COVID-19 vaccines? Here’s the latest on 11 leading programs.

The variants could affect more young people 

Experts have said that the B.1.1.7 variant could affect kids more than previous variants, but evidence is still emerging. 

Public health experts in the Western Cape, South Africa have said that the proportion of young people who have been hospitalized and died from COVID-19 in South Africa has remained the same, but there are more young people in hospital, because more people overall are sick.

COVID-19 treatments could still work

There is no evidence currently to suggest the B.1.1.7 mutations mean that COVID-19 treatments are less effective against this variant.

Scientists think that a mutation found in the variant first identified in South Africa could mean that certain antibody drugs do not work as well.

But dexamethasone, a steroid, would probably still work just as well.

All three variants have been identified in the US

In the US, 2400 cases of B.1.1.7 –  the variant first found in the UK – have been identified, according to the CDC. The variant has been found in 46 US states, including New York, Florida, and California. 

The variant identified in South Africa, 501Y.V2, was first detected in the US on January 28.

There is are ten known cases of P.1 in the US, the variant found in Brazil first identified in Japan. It was first detected in Minnesota on January 24. The Minnesota resident who got infected with P.1 had recently traveled to Brazil, the Minnesota Department of Health said.

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The UK is rushing to track down a person infected with P.1, the coronavirus variant first found in Brazil. Officials don’t know who the person is, or where in the country they are.

London coronavirus face mask
A woman stands a crosswalk in London, UK on October 15, 2020.

  • Six cases of the coronavirus variant first found in Brazil, called P.1, have been detected in the UK.
  • One of the people infected didn’t complete a test registration card, so officials don’t know who it is.
  • P.1 is probably more infectious, and has spread to 28 countries, including the US.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The coronavirus variant first identified in Brazil, called P.1, has been detected in the UK, but officials are struggling to track down one infected person because they didn’t fill out a form with their details.

Public Health England (PHE) said Sunday that there were six P.1 cases in total in the UK – three in Scotland and three in England. Two of the cases in England were from a single household in South Gloucestershire, south-west England, which had a history of travel to Brazil. 

PHE also confirmed a “third, currently unlinked case.” This was someone that didn’t complete a COVID-19 registration form when they took their test, so PHE cannot immediately track them down. 

PHE has launched an appeal for anyone who took a test on February 12 or February 13, around the time that the test was processed, to come forward. Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said PHE was working with the postal service to try to locate the unidentified person, the BBC reported.

P.1 was first detected in four travelers from Brazil who flew to Japan and were tested during routine screening in Tokyo on January 2. It has since spread to 28 countries, including to the US, where there are 10 cases, according to GISAID. P.1 was first found in the US in Minnesota on January 26.  

The two people in South Gloucestershire in the UK with P.1 had traveled to London from Sao Paulo in Brazil via Switzerland on February 10. The health service is now testing other people without symptoms in the South Gloucestershire area to try to find any other P.1 cases.

“We have identified these [P.1] cases thanks to the UK’s advanced sequencing capabilities which means we are finding more variants and mutations than many other countries and are therefore able to take action quickly,” Dr. Susan Hopkins, PHE strategic response director for COVID-19 and NHS Test and Trace Medical Advisor, said in a statement. 

The UK hotel quarantine rule, whereby travelers coming into the country from 33 countries – including Brazil – must quarantine in a hotel for 10 days on arrival, came into effect on February 15, after their arrival. Before this date, people were asked to self-isolate at home for 10 days.

The people identified with P.1 in Scotland had flown to Aberdeen from Brazil via Paris and London, and were self-isolating, the Scottish government said Sunday. The Scottish government said that others on the flight were being contacted. In Scotland, the hotel quarantine rule applies to travelers from all countries.

P.1 has eleven mutations. Three of them are in the spike protein – the part of the virus that it uses to infect human cells. 

Two of the mutations, called E484K and K417T, could mean that P.1 is able to evade antibodies produced by the body in response to COVID-19 or after immunization. There have been a number of reinfections reported, but we don’t yet know whether vaccines work less well against P.1. 

These two mutations are also found in the variant first identified in South Africa, and early studies have shown that Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine worked less well against lab-made viruses containing these mutations.

Another mutation, called N501Y, probably makes P.1 more infectious. It was initially detected in Amazonas, north-west Brazil, on December 4 and by January 21, 91% of people with COVID-19 in the region were infected with P.1, according to the World Health Organization

It is not yet known whether P.1. is more contagious than other coronavirus variants such as B.1.1.7, the variant first detected in the UK. 

B.1.1.7 has spread to 82 countries worldwide including to 46 states in the US, where it is fast-becoming the most common coronavirus strain in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

It is also unclear whether or not P.1. is more deadly. This is “under investigation”, according to the WHO.

“The measures to stop [P.1] spreading do not change,” Hopkins said. “Stay at home […] cover your nose and mouth, wash your hands thoroughly.”

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First known US case of highly transmissible mutated coronavirus strain from Brazil reported in Minnesota

minnesota coronavirus
A North Dakota resident seals a self-administered COVID-19 saliva test sample at a testing site inside the former Thomas Edison Elementary School, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Moorhead, Minnesota, U.S., October 25, 2020.

  • The first known US case of a coronavirus variant from Brazil was reported in Minnesota on Monday.
  • The new strain P.1, is another mutation of SARS-CoV-2 to be detected in the US, alongside a strain originating from the UK. 
  • The patient had recent travel history to Brazil and developed symptoms during the first week of January.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The first known case of a new, highly contagious coronavirus variant from Brazil was reported in Minnesota on Monday, according to state public health officials.

The mutated coronavirus strain from Brazil is another known variant to be detected in the US, alongside another strain that was first identified in the UK, known as B.1.1.7.

Another variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, has also been reported originating from South Africa, B1.351, but infections from the strain have not been reported in the US as of Monday.

“The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) today announced that its Public Health Laboratory has found the variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus known as the Brazil P.1 variant in a specimen from a Minnesota resident with recent travel history to Brazil,” state health officials said in a statement Monday.

The person is a resident of the Twin Cities metro area, and started to develop symptoms during the first week of January, health officials said. A test sample from the patient was collected on January 9.

The infection from the Brazilian strain P.1 was detected through the health department’s “variant surveillance program,” in which the program collects 50 random samples from clinical laboratories and testing partners and tests the samples through whole-genome sequencing, according to the statement.

Read more: When the coronavirus runs rampant, mutations and new strains are more likely. That may be what happened in the UK.

“We’re thankful that our testing program helped us find this case, and we thank all Minnesotans who seek out testing when they feel sick or otherwise have reason to get a test,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said in a statement.

Scientists have been particularly concerned about the P.1 coronavirus strain after the rapid surge of infections in the Brazilian city of Manaus, The Washington Post reported.

Mutations of a virus can occur in areas where the original strain runs rampant, which may have been the case in the UK and Brazil. A study published in the research journal Science found that more than three-quarters of the population in Manaus had already been infected by the coronavirus, which should have put residents close to herd immunity from the virus.

“We know that even as we work hard to defeat COVID-19, the virus continues to evolve as all viruses do,” Malcolm said. “That’s yet another reason why we want to limit COVID-19 transmission – the fewer people who get COVID-19, the fewer opportunities the virus has to evolve.”

“The good news is that we can slow the spread of this variant and all COVID-19 variants by using the tried-and-true prevention methods of wearing masks, keeping social distance, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate,” the Minnesota health commissioner continued.

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