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Brazil's COVID-19 Cases Rise Amid Disinformation, Variant P.1

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Coronavirus cases are surging in Brazil. It has the world's second-highest COVID-19 death toll behind only the U.S. Yesterday, nearly 2,000 people in Brazil died from the virus, breaking another daily record. Dr. Mauricio Nogueira is a physician at Faculty of Medicine at Sao Jose do Rio Preto in Sao Paulo. He says part of the issue is rampant disinformation coming from government leaders.

MAURICIO NOGUEIRA: They are still saying we don't need vaccines, we don't need to shut down because you can use chloroquine.

MARTIN: Chloroquine, as in hydrochloroquine (ph), the chemical President Trump promoted at one point without evidence as a possible treatment for COVID. Dr. Nogueira says the situation in Brazil may be going from bad to worse.

NOGUEIRA: We are close. In some places, we are at this 100% of patient in ICUs, but the number of cases are still increasing. So we are unfortunately walking to a catastrophe.

MARTIN: We are a year into this pandemic. What's to account for the surge happening in Brazil right now?

NOGUEIRA: Well, I think that a series of really bad decisions taken by some politicians in my country. Of course, first of all, there is some people that still denies the outbreak, still denies that it's a problem. I don't - I really - I can't understand what's going on in this people mind that...

MARTIN: When you say they deny the pandemic, they're just dismissing COVID as a regular flu or something, not understanding the severity.

NOGUEIRA: Yeah. They don't understand the severity, and they think that this is a plot against the Brazilian government. It's insane. It's difficult to explain, Rachel, but there are some people in high levels of the government who believes that. And because of that, the Brazilian government decided not to buy vaccines when they offered by the major pharmaceutical companies last year. So now we are in the middle of outbreak. We don't have vaccine enough. And even if you have buy all the vaccines right now, it's going to take a while to make some impact.

MARTIN: What was the justification the government gave for not buying the vaccine?

NOGUEIRA: The justification changed time to time. First was contractual problems, second was price. But the bottom line is what most of the people believe, that the government was thinking that they would not need to buy because this was a small outbreak that's going to vanish at some point.

MARTIN: We have heard a lot about the variant of the coronavirus discovered in Brazil. How worried are you about that?

NOGUEIRA: Well, first of all, variants are a combination viruses, OK? That's - more multiplication that you have, more variants will emerge. This is basic virology. It's the nature of the virus. So we were having our new variants in South Africa, new variants in England, even in the West some variants are emerging. But in Brazil, they are emerging the large scale. Why? Because we are probably today the country of the world with the highest circulation of the virus. So it's expected biological event, OK? We know that these variants will emerge. These variants may or may be not more pathogenic or more transmissible, but at the bottom line, if we were doing the social distancing, we are using masks or if we were doing lockdown, we will not have this problem. The variants were not the cause of this. They are the consequence of our lack of responsibility in the response to the COVID.

MARTIN: So what will make a difference for Brazil? I mean, with all of these factors, how does it get out of this cycle?

NOGUEIRA: At this moment, we have to get vaccines as fast as we can. We have to make some decisions that are not well - I can say they are not politically good because we need to shut down our economy for some days in order to have a real lockdown. But even doing that, we still have - we're going to need a month or so to have a real effect on that. So unfortunately, what we should do now is brace for impact.

MARTIN: Dr. Mauricio Nogueira, thank you so much for talking with us.

NOGUEIRA: It's been my pleasure, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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