Brazil detects new virus variant

·2-min read

Brazil has detected a new COVID-19 variant similar to the one first seen in South Africa, as Latin America's biggest country notches another record daily death toll.

The head of Sao Paulo's Butantan institute Dimas Covas said on Wednesday the patient with the variant had no history of travel to South Africa.

The variant has alarmed public health experts as there are questions of how effective current vaccines are against it.

Brazil is grappling with its own homegrown variant, called P1, which appears to be fuelling a record-breaking run of infections.

"It is a variant similar to that of South Africa, although there is no history of travel or contact with travellers from South Africa," said Covas, whose biomedical institute is state run.

"There is a possibility it is an evolution of our P1 towards this mutation in South Africa."

Brazil reported a daily record of 3869 new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, with 90,638 new coronavirus cases in the prior 24 hours, its health ministry said.

The nation is grappling with the worst phase of its outbreak, which has already killed more than 321,000 Brazilians, the world's second-highest death toll after the United States.

A slow vaccine rollout and lack of social distancing are contributing to the spiraling caseload, which is pushing the country's healthcare system to the brink.

Brazil currently accounts for about a quarter of COVID-19 daily deaths worldwide, more than any other country.

At the first meeting of a new committee to combat the pandemic, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga called for mask wearing and social distancing alongside congressional leaders.

But President Jair Bolsonaro, lashed over his handling of the pandemic, appeared unmasked and repeated his criticism of state government orders restricting economic activity.