Brazilian virus variant spreads rapidly throughout the region

Corona infection figures are rising sharply in Latin America. The virus mutation P.1, which was first detected in Brazil, is being detected more and more frequently. Many countries are closing their borders to Brazil. At the same time, statistics are proving to be less reliable: Mexico is now suddenly the country with the most Corona deaths worldwide after the USA, not Brazil, according to official data.

by Alexander Busch, Latin America correspondent for Handelsblatt and Neue Zürcher Zeitung


“When Brazil sneezes, South America has the flu” – this saying used to apply mainly to the major influence that the Brazilian economy has on the continent: Accordingly, weak growth in Brazil often triggers a recession in neighboring countries.

Now, however, the saying also applies in the narrower sense of the word: the P.1 mutation, which was first detected in the Brazilian Amazon metropolis of Manaus, appears to be increasingly responsible for the sharp rise in the number of infections in South America. In all neighboring countries, P.1 infections are on the rise, especially in metropolitan areas and regions close to the border. In Paraguay and Argentina, health authorities even detected the P. 2 mutant for the first time in Rio de Janeiro.

Argentina, like Peru, has now for a long time blocked all flights from Brazil – as well as from Mexico and Chile. But it seems that the mutations are being introduced by land across the green borders from Brazil to neighboring countries. However, as countries such as Mexico, Colombia, but also Paraguay or Uruguay continue to leave their borders open to travelers from Brazil, the virus is likely to spread rapidly in the coming weeks.

In Chile, it turns out that a successful vaccination program does not help against the new virus either. After Israel and Great Britain, Chile is the country with one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. 36 percent of the population there has already been vaccinated once, according to Oxford-based Our World in Data. Nearly one million people there are vaccinated every day. The government aims to have 80 percent of the population immunized by the end of June.

But in March, infection rates rose sharply again: With a current average of 357 infected people per million inhabitants, infection rates are now again as high as in Brazil, where, however, only 8 percent of the population has been reached by the vaccination campaign so far. The authorities suspect that they relaxed social distancing measures too early and therefore the virus spread more quickly in the summer months.

This also seems to apply to Uruguay. For months, the country was one of the fastest responders to the pandemic in Latin America, keeping the numbers of infected and dead low. But that has changed: Uruguay currently has one of the highest infection rates in the world, with 730 infected people per million inhabitants. This could be due to the fact that Uruguay is a popular summer vacation destination for neighboring countries.

The fact that corona statistics often do not reflect reality is shown by the example of Mexico: on March 29, the Mexican Ministry of Health revised the published data on the pandemic and stated that the number of deaths caused by the corona virus is 60 percent higher than previously reported. More than 321,000 people have already died from Covid-19, it said. This would make Mexico even surpass Brazil in Latin America and number 2 in the world on the list of countries with the most deaths in the pandemic, after the United States.

COVID-19 in Latin America

Development of case numbers in the region

Currently reported cases in the countries

COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Vaccine doses administered by country

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