Brazilians seek pre-pandemic normalcy even as COVID-19 deaths top 600,000

In this file photo taken on April 17, 2021 people mourn as a COVID-19 victim is buried by cemetery workers at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on April 17, 2021 people mourn as a COVID-19 victim is buried by cemetery workers at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AFP)
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Updated 10 October 2021

Brazilians seek pre-pandemic normalcy even as COVID-19 deaths top 600,000

Brazilians seek pre-pandemic normalcy even as COVID-19 deaths top 600,000
  • The country’s average daily death toll has hovered around 500 for a month, down sharply from more than 3,000 in April
  • Almost 45 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, and a booster shot is being administered to the elderly

SAO PAULO: Bars in Sao Paulo are full again for evening happy hours, lawmakers in the capital of Brasilia have nearly done away with video sessions via Zoom, and Rio de Janeiro’s beaches are packed. Calls for strict social distancing seem but a memory.
Brazil appears intent on returning to pre-pandemic normalcy, even as its death toll tops 600,000, according to official data on Friday from the health ministry. Relief in both COVID-19 cases and deaths have been particularly welcome given experts’ warnings that the delta variant would produce another wave of destruction in the country with the second-most victims. So far, that hasn’t materialized.
The country’s average daily death toll has hovered around 500 for a month, down sharply from more than 3,000 in April. Almost 45 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, and a booster shot is being administered to the elderly. A greater percentage of Brazilians are at least partially vaccinated compared to Americans or Germans, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.
Improvement has encouraged mayors and governors to admit fans into soccer matches, and let bars and restaurants stay open until the wee hours. Some are even contemplating the end of mask mandates, which people often ignore already.
Marcelo Queiroga, Brazil’s fourth health minister since the pandemic hit, suggested in a press conference on Friday that masks should not be mandatory. “Why would I pass a law to force people to use condoms? Don’t even think of it,” he said.
Rio’s mayor has announced plans to bring back the city’s massive New Year’s Eve party on Copacabana beach.
Gonzalo Vecina, a professor of public health at the University of Sao Paulo, told The Associated Press in July that delta, which is more contagious, would cause “a new explosion” of cases within weeks. He was hardly alone among experts sounding the alarm.
Now, Vecina believes the high number of Brazilians infected earlier this year with the gamma variant — first identified in the Amazonian city Manaus — may have slowed delta’s advance.
“That isn’t a conclusion from a study; it is a possibility we are raising in the face of what we are seeing,” Vecina said. “We are seeing delta rise in countries that reopened just as much as Brazil, and our number of cases is still going down, with few very particular exceptions.”
Some analysts remain worried about delta’s potential to spread. Among them is Miguel Lago, executive director of Brazil’s Institute for Health Policy Studies, which advises public health officials. He believes authorities are taking considerable risk by reopening too much and announcing celebrations, and that Brazil may soon see more hospital admissions.
“The pandemic has waned, but 500 deaths per day is far from good. And we don’t even have half the population fully vaccinated,” Lago said. “We just don’t know enough and we have this horrific milestone to contemplate now.”
Friday morning, on Copacabana where Rio’s New Year’s party will take place in less than three months, activist group Rio da Paz held a memorial on its sands to mourn the 600,000 dead, with hundreds of white kerchiefs strung on lines.
Across town, at a support group for family members of the virus’ victims, Bruna Chaves mourned the loss of her mother and step-father.
“It’s not just 600,000 people who are gone; it’s a lot of people who die with them, emotionally,” Chaves said in an interview. “It’s absurd that people treat it like it’s a small number. It’s a big number.”
Many in Brazil continue to downplay the pandemic’s severity, chief among them President Jair Bolsonaro, whose popularity has sagged largely due to his government’s chaotic pandemic response. But he hasn’t veered from his positions, including staunch support for drugs proven ineffective against the virus, like hydroxychloroquine.
He also continues to criticize restrictions on activity adopted by mayors and governors, saying Brazil needed to keep the economy humming to avoid inflicting worse hardship on the poor. On Thursday night, during a live broadcast on Facebook, he showed a series of newspaper articles reporting economic turmoil in Europe and the US last year in an attempt to prove he was right all along.
Months after its New Year’s bash, Rio will also host Carnival, according to Mayor Eduardo Paes. And he said social distancing is out of the question.
“That would be ridiculous, asking people to keep one meter away. If that were the case, I would be the first to disrespect that,” he told residents in a middle-class neighborhood on Monday. “Science has advanced, it won, it is allowing us to open.”
Brazil’s long history with vaccination campaigns has played a significant role in slowing the virus’ spread, with broad uptake. Nearly three-quarters of Brazilians have received at least one dose so far — despite the fact Bolsonaro spent months sowing doubt about their efficacy and remains unvaccinated himself. Even most of his supporters rolled up their sleeves.
Queiroga said all Brazilians between ages 18 and 60 will be able to get vaccinated again next year. He added more than 354 million shots will be available. Brazil’s population is of approximately 210 million.
“The scenario looks positive and I promise that Brazilians will have an efficient immunization campaign in 2022 and that will be the year the COVID-19 pandemic ends,” the minister said.
 


Three injured after explosion in Munich – police

Three injured after explosion in Munich – police
Updated 8 sec ago

Three injured after explosion in Munich – police

Three injured after explosion in Munich – police
  • Rail travel to and from the main train station has been suspended, according to rail operator Deutsche Bahn
BERLIN: An old aircraft bomb exploded at a bridge near Munich’s busy main train station on Wednesday, injuring three people, police said on Twitter.
The explosion happened during construction work, police said.
Due to the explosion, rail travel to and from the main train station has been suspended, according to rail operator Deutsche Bahn.

Pfizer vaccines available for EU children in two weeks

Pfizer vaccines available for EU children in two weeks
Updated 48 min 53 sec ago

Pfizer vaccines available for EU children in two weeks

Pfizer vaccines available for EU children in two weeks
  • BioNTech/Pfizer, will have jabs available for children in the bloc in two weeks’ time

BRUSSELS: The EU’s main Covid vaccine provider, BioNTech/Pfizer, will have jabs available for children in the bloc in two weeks’ time, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday.
She said she had spoken with the German-US joint venture about the issue the day before, and they said “they are able to accelerate — in other words children’s vaccines will be available as of December 13.”


Portugal tightens restrictions despite coronavirus vaccine success

Portugal tightens restrictions despite coronavirus vaccine success
Updated 01 December 2021

Portugal tightens restrictions despite coronavirus vaccine success

Portugal tightens restrictions despite coronavirus vaccine success
  • Under the new rules, most arriving passengers must show negative test results at Portugal’s airports, seaports and land borders
  • Authorities in Portugal have confirmed an outbreak of the new coronavirus variant, omicron, among members of a professional soccer club and a medical worker

LISBON: Portugal tightened passenger entry requirements and mandated masks indoors to curb an upward trend in coronavirus infections as the country with one of the strongest vaccination records in Europe entered a “state of calamity” Wednesday.
The crisis declaration, Portugal’s second this year, is one step below a state of emergency and gives the government the legal authority to impose stricter measures without parliamentary approval.
Masks now are required in enclosed public spaces, and individuals must show proof of vaccination, having recovered from COVID-19 or a negative virus tests to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and hotels. Nightclubs, hospitals, nursing homes and sports venues also must require negative virus tests from visitors and patrons, including vaccinated ones.
“With the test, we feel more comfortable. We don’t leave the club thinking, ‘Do I have COVID or not?’” Sara Lopes, a 21-year-old shop worker, said as she lined up at a central Lisbon nightclub as the new requirements took effect at midnight.
“It’s a bit of a hassle to have to make appointment after appointment at the pharmacy, but it’s fine,” Lopes said.
Under the new rules, most arriving passengers must show negative test results at Portugal’s airports, seaports and land borders.
Experts believe that Portugal’s vaccination rate, which at 87 percent of over 10 million residents is one of the highest globally, has shielded the country from the infection spikes recently experienced by some other European countries.
Still, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has been rising since September. Portuguese authorities on Tuesday recorded 2,907 new cases and 15 deaths.
Authorities in Portugal have confirmed an outbreak of the new coronavirus variant, omicron, among members of a professional soccer club and a medical worker who had contact with them.


Countries launch WHO pandemic accord talks

Countries launch WHO pandemic accord talks
Updated 01 December 2021

Countries launch WHO pandemic accord talks

Countries launch WHO pandemic accord talks
  • A new agreement on pandemic preparedness and response will come into force in 2024

GENEVA: World Health Organization member states agreed Wednesday to start work on building a new international accord setting out how to handle the next global pandemic.
Countries adopted a resolution at a special meeting in Geneva, launching the process that should result in a new agreement on pandemic preparedness and response coming into force in 2024.


China calls on citizens to leave eastern Congo after attacks

China calls on citizens to leave eastern Congo after attacks
Updated 01 December 2021

China calls on citizens to leave eastern Congo after attacks

China calls on citizens to leave eastern Congo after attacks
  • A number of Chinese citizens had been attacked and kidnapped over the past month in the provinces of South Kivu, North Kivu and Ituri

BEIJING: China on Wednesday urged its citizens to leave three provinces in eastern Congo as violence intensifies in the mineral-rich region.
A posting from the Chinese Embassy in Kinshasa on the WeChat online messaging said a number of Chinese citizens had been attacked and kidnapped over the past month in the provinces of South Kivu, North Kivu and Ituri, where several anti-government rebel groups have a presence.
It said Chinese residing in the three provinces should provide their personal details by Dec. 10 and make plans to leave for safer parts of Congo. Those in the districts of Bunia, Djugu, Beni, Rutshuru, Fizi, Uvira and Mwenga should leave immediately, it said, adding that any who do not do so “will have to bear the consequences themselves.”
“We ask that all Chinese citizens and Chinese-invested businesses in Congo please pay close attention to local conditions, increase their safety awareness and emergency preparedness, and avoid unnecessary outside travel,” the embassy said.
No details of the incidents were given, although the embassy last month reported five Chinese citizens were abducted from a mining operation in South Kivu, which borders Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
It warned a the time that the security situation in the area was “extremely complex and grim” and that there was little possibility of sending help in the event of an attack or kidnapping.
No details were given about those kidnapped, who they worked for or who was suspected of taking them.
Several armed groups including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by its French acronym FDLR, the Mai-Mai and the M23 regularly vie for control of eastern Congo’s natural resources.
Despite the danger, Chinese businesses have moved into Congo and other unstable African states in a quest for cobalt and other rare minerals and resources. Chinese workers have also been subject to kidnappings and attacks in Pakistan and other countries with active insurgencies.
Security was a key topic at a meeting Monday in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, on Monday, between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Congolese counterpart Christophe Lutundula, according to China’s Xinhua News Agency.
China’s government and ruling Communist Party “attach great importance to the safety and security of Chinese enterprises and Chinese nationals overseas and the Chinese side has been extremely concerned with the recent serious crimes of kidnappings and killings of its citizens in the DRC,” Wang said, using the acronym for the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Wang urged Congo to secure the release of those kidnapped and create a “safe, secure and stable environment for bilateral cooperation.”
Xinhua quoted Lutundula as saying Congo would take “forceful measures” to investigate the crimes, free the hostages, punish the culprits severely and safeguard national security and restore stability to the country’s east.
Earlier this week, Uganda said it launched joint air and artillery strikes with Congolese forces against camps of the extremist Allied Democratic Forces rebel group in eastern Congo.
The ADF was established in the early 1990s in Uganda and later driven out by the Ugandan military into eastern Congo, where many rebel groups are able to operate because the central government has limited control there.
At least four civilians were killed less than two weeks ago in Uganda’s capital when suicide bombers detonated their explosives at two locations.
The Daesh group claimed responsibility, saying the attacks were carried out by Ugandans. Ugandan authorities blamed the ADF, which has been allied with the Daesh group since 2019.