Brazil’s Health Minister dismisses fears of Omicron variant

Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said on Monday that the Omicron variant, labeled as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, should not be a source of “desperation.” Mr. Queiroga said that “if there is a third wave of Covid infections in the country, Brazil has a potent healthcare infrastructure” to deal with it.

Authorities are investigating a suspected case of the Omicron variant on national soil, in a patient who recently arrived in Brazil from South Africa.

“The likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high,” the WHO said Sunday in a preliminary technical brief. The variant has dozens of mutations which could make it more transmissible and enhance the risk of reinfection.

The Delta variant created havoc in multiple countries, but never had the same devastating effect in Brazil. One big reason for this was the domestic prevalence of the Gamma variant, first observed in the state of Amazonas. “That variant spread almost unchecked, at titanic proportions,” says virologist Fernando Spilki.

But while bearing some positive results, it is impossible to consider this “natural immunity” a success story. During the worst moments of the Gamma surge, over 200,000 Brazilians lost their lives.

So far, 75 percent of Brazilians have received at least one dose of Covid vaccine, with 62 percent of the population already fully immunized. The Health Ministry’s vaccination plan for 2022 includes 354 million shots — including third doses for adults up to 60 years old and a fourth for senior citizens. 

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