Brazil on the brink
Brazil is in a terrifying spot in the pandemic. The more contagious P.1 variant first discovered there has pushed cases to record highs in recent weeks and overwhelmed hospitals. The country’s daily average death toll is now the highest in the world.
To understand more, I spoke to Ernesto Londoño, The Times’s Brazil bureau chief.
What’s the virus situation?
Things are not going well. The severity of the crisis and the rate of contagion and the death toll this year have really been staggering. It seems to have caught virtually everybody by surprise.
The breakdown of the health care system has also been really stunning. Brazil has a universal health care system that has pretty broad capabilities. So to see a situation where people have died for lack of oxygen, or where hospitals run out of equipment or the drugs they need to sedate patients before intubating them — it’s really surprising. The medical corps is also just exhausted and they can’t believe they’re having to work at this pace a year into this crisis.
What led to this situation?
It appears that a slow vaccination program, at a time when a new variant is spreading, conspired to produce a perfect storm. The variant here also appears to be more contagious and more virulent, meaning it makes people sicker, quicker.
The other thing we saw, pretty much across the country, was doctors reporting that patients who got very sick and needed medical care were younger than last year. And I got a personal taste of that in January. I caught Covid and ended up being hospitalized for four nights. I’m 39 and pretty healthy, so I was among the wave of younger patients who ended up being surprisingly sick and needing medical care at the hospital.
How are you feeling now?
My physical recovery was pretty quick after I got convalescent plasma at the hospital. But the harder part was experiencing a cognitive decline for a few weeks after I recovered physically. But I’m feeling back to my normal self for the most part.
What’s daily life like in Rio, where you’re based?
I’ve seen a lot of businesses that have closed, meaning went out of business. One of the striking things you see is a rise in homelessness — so homeless encampments have become larger and more widespread. I see more families that are on the streets begging, including children, who under normal circumstances should be in school.
What is the government doing about the crisis?
What we’ve seen for the past year has been essentially a war between President Bolsonaro and many elected officials at the state and municipal level over very basic questions like social distancing, mask wearing, lockdowns and even what drugs the government should be promoting.
President Bolsonaro is facing a new inquiry by Congress that launches this week, that is supposed to take a broad look at the government’s response to the pandemic. His government has also never taken any responsibility, for example, for failing to be proactive and diligent about ordering vaccines last year, when many countries around the world were striving to be first in line. So because of that, the vaccine rollout has been incredibly slow.
How are Brazilians feeling?
The broad feeling, the pervasive feeling among people I interact with, is one of exhaustion and hopelessness. There’s a sense that as much of the world is starting to take tenuous steps back toward normalcy, Brazil is still facing a really severe and worsening crisis. And there seems to be no offramp, at least in the short run.
But also, there is a sense that the country is hopelessly polarized, specifically on this issue. So people, I think, are frazzled, are exhausted, are weary, and don’t see signs of hope.
J.&J. benefits outweigh risks
The Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine should come with a warning about rare and unusual blood clots, but it should not be pulled from use, the European Union’s drug regulator said on Tuesday.
The European Medicines Agency noted that the risks are “very rare” and that the overall benefits “outweigh the risks of side effects.”
The recommendation is not binding, and each country in the E.U. will ultimately decide what is right for its population. Johnson & Johnson said it would resume its vaccine rollout in Europe.
Last month, a few dozen blood clots also appeared in connection with the AstraZeneca vaccine, a two-dose treatment. (The agency said the clots between the two vaccines were “very similar.”) European countries quickly paused use or restricted it to older people.
Last week, when Johnson & Johnson decided to delay its European rollout, vaccine options dropped further. The move came after regulators in the U.S. called for a pause to investigate the rare clotting, which is known to have affected six people out of nearly eight million.
The E.U. agency’s recommendation, although positive for the vaccine, may be too little and too late. Many Europeans have been refusing to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, even though the agency found that its benefits outweighed its risks and recommended that E.U. members should use it.
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What you’re doing
The pandemic has been rough on our marriage. It’s been a year of differing approaches to Covid safety and living in a pressure cooker together. After months of couple’s therapy and trying to find middle ground, we’re getting divorced.
— Sarah S, Quincy, Mass.
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Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter misstated the number of doses for the AstraZeneca vaccine. It is a two-dose regimen, not one.
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