São Paulo’s New Lockdown: COVID-19 Variant Devastates Brazil

Brazil set a daily record for COVID-19 deaths for the second day straight on March 3rd, as a raging resurgence of the virus led São Paulo to shut down once again. A new coronavirus variant from the Amazon contributed to the increase in daily infections, with Health Ministry data reporting that 1,910 people died within 24 hours. Brazil’s death toll is now over 260,000. The government is trying to close vaccine deals with Pfizer and Janssen, the pharmaceutical subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, to try to combat the shocking numbers. Reuters reports that the government has stated its intent to purchase 100 million doses from Pfizer and 38 million from Janssen.

A vaccination campaign has been putting pressure on Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, who stated on March 3rd that he was close to an agreement with Pfizer Inc., with hopes of effectively overcoming a dispute over liability clauses. “We’ve reached a grave moment of the pandemic. The coronavirus variants are hitting us aggressively,” Pazuello said in a video posted on social media, adding that he expected the Pfizer doses to arrive in May. In another video, Pazuello said the ministry was close to a contract to receive the “first-rate” Janssen vaccine by August, Reuters reports.

Governor João Doria’s announcement that Sao Pãulo is going back into shutdown was met with criticism from far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who opposes lockdowns and has a long history of minimizing the virus’s dangers. According to Reuters, Bolsonaro repudiated the lockdowns, stating, “You cannot panic, like resorting once again to this stay-at-home policy. People are going to die of hunger and depression.”

Like the United States, Brazil’s citizens continue to suffer from the actions of presidents who refused to take the virus seriously. The Ministry of Health, at the time led by Luiz Henrique Mandetta, advocated for a strict social distancing framework, as recommended by the World Health Organization. However, President Bolsonaro followed the steps of his ally Donald Trump and failed to mitigate the pandemic’s impacts. He ignored the scientific findings, which he claimed were against his beliefs, and showed more concern over an economic recession than the spread of the virus. State governors decided not to comply with the minimal federal guidelines and regulations set out by Bolsonaro’s administration.

When a nation’s leadership doesn’t provide an appropriate response to a national emergency, such as the coronavirus outbreak, its people suffer. In countries like Australia and New Zealand, whose governments took the virus seriously from the beginning, life is almost back to normal. Both countries have resumed hosting in-person concerts. Meanwhile, however, both the United States and Brazil are still experiencing rising cases. These two countries have the highest death tolls worldwide.

COVID-19 has already had a devastating effect on Brazil, and the virus is continuing to take its toll on the nation, even a year into the pandemic. “Brazil now faces three different crises due to lack of regulatory excellence,” the Reg Review explains: “A health crisis, an economic crisis, and a political crisis.” Although the regulations governors set did occasionally help to stop the virus’s spread, Brazil is battling a new variant, which has taken over major cities and is now spreading to others. Preliminary studies suggest that this variant is not only more contagious, but also may be able to infect people who have already recovered from other forms of the virus. This variant has already slipped through Brazil’s borders and is showing up in two dozen other countries, including the U.S.

Brazil is facing its deadliest stretch since the virus began. With scarce restrictions to slow the virus and a patchy vaccine rollout, the nation is suffering greatly from what could have been prevented with a strong initial response. However, rather than dwelling on the past, Brazil’s leadership should take the opportunity to place restrictions and prevent the virus from getting any worse than it already is. Both former president Donald Trump and President Bolsonaro valued their economies over the dangers of a virus they claimed was overplayed. This attitude has not only cost lives. The citizens of these countries are living a nightmare that could have been taken care of before it was too late.