The 4 threats that Brazil faces in the pandemic, in the view of the secretary of Conass

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The 4 threats that Brazil faces in the pandemic, in the view of the secretary of Conass

The situation of the Covid-19 pandemic in Europe, the emergence of new variants (such as omicron), the number of vulnerable citizens and the low rate of vaccination in South America should serve as a warning for Brazil in the coming months.

This is the assessment made by the sanitarian physician Jurandi Frutuoso, executive secretary of the National Council of Health Secretaries, Conass.

Master in collective health from the University of Brasília and Secretary of Health of Ceará between 2003 and 2006, the specialist reinforces the need for prudence with the coronavirus, even though the situation in the country has improved in recent months.

“It is natural that, after two years of complete inactivity in some sectors, there is now an anxiety to return to normal life. But we need to be careful, as several yellow lights have been turned on in some parts of the world recently”, he analyzes.

Frutuoso understands that it is necessary to be careful with some events that are to come, such as the New Year’s Eve parties and Carnival. The fear is that they will stimulate the transit of tourists and cause agglomerations, which are one of the main focuses of transmission of the coronavirus.

“The entry of tourists and internal travel between cities and states increase the possibility of agglomerations. And this could once again make our situation vulnerable”, he assesses.

One step forward, two back

In Frutuoso’s assessment, the advance of vaccination against Covid-19 has allowed Brazil “to stay in a calmer situation”, with declines in the moving averages of cases and deaths from the disease since the beginning of the second half of 2021.

“But we still have about 30% of the population that is not with the complete regimen or has not received any doses”, he calculates.

“This worries us, as we are talking about millions of more vulnerable people”, he adds.

This account includes all age groups, including children, whose vaccination against Covid-19 has not yet been authorized by the Brazilian authorities.

If we consider only the target audience of the national campaign, almost 90% of individuals received the first dose and 75% have the complete vaccination schedule.

The sanitary doctor also draws attention to the low vaccination coverage in other South American countries bordering Brazil.

While Uruguay has 76% of the population fully vaccinated and Argentina has 64% of the most protected citizens, in other countries in the region the campaign is much further behind. This is the case of Suriname (with 37% of individuals taking both doses), Guyana (35%), Paraguay (35%) and Bolivia (33%). The numbers are from the Our World In Data website, which compiles information and statistics about the pandemic.

In the view of the secretary of Conass, this represents a second threat for Brazil: the constant flow of people can make the situation worse, starting with the increase in the transmission rate of the coronavirus in border regions and cities.

The third element that signals a warning for our country is the new wave of Covid-19 that affects Europe. In recent weeks, this continent has been classified as a new epicenter of the pandemic by the World Health Organization and some countries have had to reintroduce some restrictions and even lockdown.

Frutuoso recalls that, a few months ago, the European situation had become calmer — which even motivated the abandonment of some measures, such as the use of masks and the prevention of agglomerations.

“And, to top it off, we have now more recently discovered the omicron variant in South Africa, which brings a constellation of mutations that still need to be studied, but which may affect previous immunity”, says the expert.

What to do now?

And it is precisely to prevent these factors from affecting Brazil and making the pandemic worse again here that the Conass calls for prudence and caution from public managers.

In letters published in recent days, the organization makes two main appeals. First, that the Federal Government puts into practice the requirement of proof of vaccination for the entry of travelers into Brazil, as directed by the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa).

For now, passengers disembarking here need only submit a negative Covid PCR test and a statement of health status.

Second, that city and state managers avoid large parties and gatherings for the coming months, especially New Year’s Eve and Carnival.

“It is not possible to adopt a single decision for the more than 5,000 Brazilian municipalities. But those responsible for public policies need to consider the local epidemiological reality and some indicators, such as the coronavirus transmission rate, the vaccination rate and the occupation of beds hospitals”, analyzes Frutuoso.

“It is also important that managers continue with vaccination and encourage non-pharmacological measures to control the pandemic, such as the use of masks, hand washing and reducing crowding when possible.”

“In short, we need to put into practice two very important terms: common sense and responsibility. All decisions must be based on scientific evidence and follow technical criteria”, completes the sanitarist.

Two weights, two measures?

Finally, Frutuoso understands that the decision to cancel or not Carnival, which has generated heated debates on social media, needs to be aligned with the other restriction measures — it’s no use for a city not to hold the festivities in February while allowing concerts, public football cults and games take place in full swing in late 2021 and early 2022, for example.

According to news released in recent days, more than 70 cities in the interior and coast of São Paulo have decided not to hold Carnival next year.

“If a municipality allows everything and only wants to ban Carnival, that is reckless and weakens the decision”, counters the secretary.

“You can’t give up masks and allow crowds now if you’re worried about what’s going to happen in February,” he says.

The expert emphasizes that all public policies to contain the pandemic must be carried out with prudence, lucidity and technical criteria.

“We all know how painful and exhausting these last two years have been. But what can we do now that we’ve arrived here?”, he asks.

“It is precisely these precautions that help to prevent the yellow light in other parts of the world from also lighting up here in Brazil”, he concludes.

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