Society

Amidst "data blackout", Brazil reports first death due to the Omicron variant

The explosion of Omicron variant cases has recently led the world to set daily records for COVID-19 infection. In Brazil, however, a shortage of tests and data left the country in the dark

Health professional prepares vaccine dose against COVID-19 in Brasília, Brazil 02/02/2021. Photo: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

A 68-year-old man with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and arterial hypertension became the first death in the country due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19 proven by genomic sequencing, informed the Health Department of Aparecida de Goiânia (GO), on Thursday.

According to a statement, the patient was admitted to a hospital and had contact with a person already confirmed with infection by the variant. He had been vaccinated with three doses.

READ ALSO: Brazilian Ministry of Health confirms vaccination of children against COVID and waives the requirement for a medical prescription

The city said that confirmation of death occurred exactly ten days after community transmission of Omicron was declared in the locality, which has a municipal genome sequencing program.

So far, the city has already confirmed 55 cases of Omicron. The prevalence of the variant in the city reached 93.5%, added the agency.

Missing data and shortage of COVID-19 tests

The explosion of Omicron variant cases has recently led the world to set daily records for COVID-19 infection. In Brazil, however, a shortage of tests and a “data blackout” in the Ministry of Health’s systems have left the country in the dark in dealing with Omicron.

Brazilians with symptoms have faced long lines at healthcare facilities looking for coronavirus tests, while reports of people suspected of the disease have returned to dominate conversations in the country, but a “data blackout” by the federal government has not has reflected the real advancement of the Omicron variant, experts warned.

READ ALSO: Number of flights to return to pre-pandemic levels between March and April, say Brazilian airlines

Without an efficient policy of mass testing since the beginning of the pandemic, Brazil now finds itself in an even more complicated situation of lack of tests due to the high transmission capacity of Ômicron, the new variant of the virus that has taken several countries around the world. breaking records for new COVID-19 cases.

In addition to the lack of tests, the Ministry of Health’s information systems have shown instability since it was the target to a hacker attack in December.

“The general system of records is bad from the beginning, it got worse with the hacker attack, so we are really submerged,” said health doctor Gonzalo Vecina Neto, former president of the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) and professor at the University of São Paulo (USP). “We are in the dark.”

Despite being the third country in the world with more cases and more deaths from COVID-19, Brazil is the place in South America that least tests its citizens for the disease, according to data compiled by the website Our World in Data, excluding Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, which do not release the numbers.

The difficulty of finding a test in the public system leads many Brazilians to look for pharmacies, but demand exploded and many places ran out of stock. The demand was low until then due to the reduction in the number of cases in the previous months with the advance of vaccination.

Experts warn about an explosion of cases

As the symptoms of Omicron are weaker, in most cases, many people get better before they are even tested and done the isolation that would be necessary, according to experts.

“We light up the warning sign, this movement that people are having at the end of the year without a health education policy further complicates the situation. Most likely we will see an increase in the number of cases now at the beginning of the year”, said public health researcher Diego Xavier, from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz).

READ ALSO: Ecuador makes vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory

Even with the underreporting, the cases of COVID-19 have already increased at the beginning of the year. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, the daily moving average of 7-day cases jumped more than 2,000% to 398 on Monday from 18 on December 17.

“We are seeing a very significant increase in the number of cases on a daily basis, dealing with people, with patients. This was seen in all places where the expansion of Omicron was detected. It is a virus that has very different characteristics, it is transmitted very easily and not necessarily to cause a mild disease or an infection without symptoms, it respects the presence of previous immunity, whether you are a person who has already had COVID or people who have already been immunized”, said Ésper Kallas, infectious disease physician, and professor at USP.

“Brazil has never invested in a testing policy, nor in sampling testing, nor in genomic surveillance. We even pay the price for the variant that appeared in Brazil to be detected on the other side of the world, in Japan, because we don’t monitor the variants decently,” said epidemiologist Pedro Hallal, from the Federal University of Pelotas, recalling the Gamma variant, which originated in Manaus but was discovered by Japanese researchers early last year.

(Translated by LABS)

Get the best insights about Latin America market in your inbox