A new variant of coronavirus that combines 18 mutations has been detected as one of the world's worst-hit countries exceeds 4,000 deaths in a single 24-hour period.
Brazil surpassed the grim milestone this week as news broke of the new strain, which scientists believe has both similar and different characteristics to existing variants in Brazil, news site AA reported.
Virologist Renato Santana, from the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said the new variant included genes modified in Brazilian city Manaus, as well as the highly-infectious British and South African variants.
It was too early to identify whether the new variant posed any additional threats like being more transmissible or deadly, according to Mr Santana.
"It is as if these variants were evolving," he said.
Brazil this week became the second nation to go above the 4,000 daily deaths threshold, with 4,195 deaths counted in the 24 hours before Tuesday morning.
With the nation’s pandemic toll fast approaching 340,000, many governors, mayors and judges are reopening parts of the economy despite lingering chaos in overcrowded hospitals and a collapsed health system in several parts of the country.
Only the US has had daily death tolls higher than 4,000. A Peruvian report of 4,143 on August 14 included deaths from several days.
Sao Paulo state, Brazil’s most populous with 46 million residents, registered almost 1,400 deaths in the latest count. Health officials said the figure was partly due to the Easter holiday, which delayed the count.
President's 'anti-lockdown' narrative has 'won'
Local authorities nationwide argue that numbers of cases and hospitalisations are trending downward after a week of a partial shutdown.
Miguel Lago, executive director of Brazil’s Institute for Health Policy Studies, which advises public health officials, said reopening is a mistake that he fears will bring even higher death numbers, though he thinks it unlikely to be reversed.
“The fact is the anti-lockdown narrative of President Jair Bolsonaro has won,” Lago told The Associated Press.
“Mayors and governors are politically prohibited from beefing up social distancing policies because they know supporters of the president, including business leaders, will sabotage it.”
Bolsonaro, who has long downplayed the risks of the coronavirus, remains fully against lockdowns as damaging to the economy.
Covid-19 patients are using more than 90 per cent of beds in intensive care unit in most Brazilian states, though figures have been stable since the past week.
Still, hundreds are dying as they wait for care and basic supplies such as oxygen and sedatives are running out in several states.
Legal battle to reopen religious buildings
Less than 3 per cent of Brazil’s 210 million people have received both doses of coronavirus vaccines, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.
Over the weekend, justices of Brazil’s Supreme Court started a tug of war about the reopening of religious buildings, which were closed by many local authorities despite a federal government decision to label them as part of essential services.
Some churches welcomed their faithful on Easter Sunday, but others were stopped by mayors and governors. Their reopening will be settled at the high court Wednesday, but some local councils, such as Belo Horizonte, voted Tuesday to keep religious buildings open.
Also on Tuesday a Rio de Janeiro judge allowed schools to reopen as Mayor Eduardo Paes wanted.
Hours later, the mayors of Campinas and Sorocaba, two of the most populous cities in Sao Paulo state, agreed to reopen business with a drive-thru purchase system after a 10-day halt.
Professional soccer executives in Sao Paulo said they expect to play games this week after a 15-day interruption, promising local prosecutors they will follow stricter health protocols.
With Associated Press
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