After a brief period of declining new COVID-19 cases since the devastating wave of the Omicron variant, Chile, Argentina and Brazil are again seeing new outbreaks of the pandemic. Chile recorded 18,060 and 26,780 new cases respectively in the past two weeks, a 48% increase in one week. Although the number of intensive care beds occupied by COVID-19 patients in Chile has not yet increased, the other waves of the pandemic have shown that hospitalizations and deaths follow the outbreaks of cases with a delay of a few weeks.
In Argentina, cases increased by 92% in one week and in the capital, Buenos Aires, by 128%. Four weeks ago, the country recorded 8,387 new cases, but that number rose to 33,989 last week, an increase of 305.2%. Between the first week of the month and last week, the number of hospitalized patients in moderate to serious condition in Buenos Aires increased by 64.5%, from 237 to 390.
In Brazil, the moving average of cases is increasing, driven by outbreaks in the southern region of the country. On May 19, it reached an average of 19,128 new daily cases, an increase of 46.7% from the previous month. Given the significant under-reporting of infections in the country, it is difficult to know the true trajectory of the pandemic. However, data from hospitalizations, pharmacy tests and school reports indicate that the virus is spreading much faster than official figures show.
According to data from the Brazilian Association of Pharmacy and Drugstore Chains (Abrafarma), the number of positive tests increased by 56% between the week of May 2-8 and the week of May 9-15. During the same period, the total number of tests carried out increased from 89,236 to 121,272.
The number of hospitalizations in the state of São Paulo is increasing, from 1,253 in the first week of this month to 1,666 last week, an increase of 33%. At the same time, the total number of patients in intensive care beds has increased by 11.2% since May 1, from 3,179 to 3,536 on May 20.
Last week, classes were suspended in at least four classrooms at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) after 17 medical students tested positive for COVID-19 in just seven days. In the ABC industrial region of São Paulo, there are several reports from parents of outbreaks of infection in schools. The mother of a student of the vocational school ETEC Jorge Street told Report Diario“To our knowledge, there were 12 cases in his class. And also, in other classes of mechatronics, electronics and administration courses, there are teachers who are sick.
The response to signs of a new wave of the pandemic by Latin American governments is essentially the same, from self-proclaimed “leftist” governments like that of Gabriel Boric in Chile and Alberto Fernández in Argentina, to that of the fascist president Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.
The spike in infections in Chile comes at the same time as COVID-19 testing has hit its lowest rate in more than a year and a half. Entry tests into the country have not been required since March, and in April the land borders with Argentina, Bolivia and Peru were reopened. On April 14, the Chilean government removed mask mandates in open places, including mass gatherings such as concerts and football stadiums.
Boric’s government adopts an alert criterion for the severity of the pandemic based solely on the transmission of “new variants” among the population. In March, with the emergence of the BA.2 subvariant, experts said this version of the virus had enough mutations from the original Omicron variant to give it a new Greek letter. However, admitting the seriousness of BA.2 would alarm the public and force the government to halt its campaign to end the remaining mitigation measures. Following the position that “the cure cannot be worse than the disease”, the criteria adopted by the Chilean government allow it to keep the economy open indefinitely during a next wave.
This indifferent and criminal policy in response to the pandemic is a component of the Chilean pseudo-left government’s reactionary response to the escalation of workers’ struggles, with Boric sending the Carabinieri special forces to violently suppress a strike by workers in the refineries of oil on May 9. The aim is to ensure that workers remain on production lines, in warehouses and other workplaces generating profits for capitalists even as commodity prices continue to rise and the spread of the virus continues. to hit thousands of people every day.
Since April 6, continuing the policy adopted during the January-February Omicron wave, the Peronist government of Alberto Fernandez in Argentina has abolished the mandatory wearing of masks in schools and workplaces in the province of Buenos Aires, where more than a third of the country’s population lives. The end of mandatory use was put in place days after the nationwide suspension of the requirement to report positive self-tests to the government and mandatory two-metre social distancing.
In response to the rapid increase in new cases in recent weeks, Argentine Health Minister Carla Vizzotti signaled over the weekend that the new outbreaks would not be accompanied by any public health measures, which are limited already almost exclusively to vaccination. Vizzoti said: “We are starting today in Argentina the fourth wave of COVID-19, in a totally different situation”, adding that the increase in cases has not had a corresponding pressure on the Argentinian health system because vaccines.
At the end of March, Vizzotti declared that “we are in the transition from pandemic to endemic”, almost at the same time as the Bolsonaro government declared the end of the health emergency in response to COVID-19 in Brazil, called ESPIN. The end of ESPIN was announced in April by the Brazilian Minister of Health, Marcelo Queiroga, in the face of criticism from several public health associations and health professionals. The decision officially took effect on Sunday, as the number of hospitalizations accelerated.
Although Queiroga stresses that the emergency purchase of vaccines and drugs will continue, experts warn that the end of the decree could mean an even greater reduction in pandemic testing and surveillance systems. Fiocruz Foundation epidemiologist Ethel Maciel pointed out that timelines for contracting services and personnel are on hold with the end of ESPIN. Maciel said: “Services will be interrupted. Professionals who are hired by decree will see their contract terminated and this will be quite detrimental to the population.
The policy of letting the virus spread among the population of the most populous countries in the region threatens to cause a new devastating wave of cases throughout Latin America and creates the conditions for a further collapse of its health systems, as in previous waves.
In Colombia, which has not yet registered an increase in new cases, the Minister of Health Fernando Ruíz highlighted on May 14 the “clear probability of negative and highly contagious events in the coming days” and referred to the serious increase in infections in the United States. . However, following the line of all governments in the region, Ruíz ruled out any response to the threat of new waves, saying that a “slight increase in [the] positivity [rate] is not worrying.
In Bolivia, the health minister of the pseudo-left government of Luis Arce said: “In the latest epidemiological surveillance report, we have detected the BA.2 variant of Omicron in the country. The Ministry of Health said that an increase in cases had been recorded and that the population should prepare for a new wave. Last week, 718 new cases were reported, more than double the previous week with 331 cases.
Moreover, the vaccination-only strategy adopted by governments in the region allows the virus to continue to spread and develop new, potentially more transmissible and virulent variants.
Earlier this month, the first cases of the XQ subvariant of COVID-19 were confirmed, a combination of BA.1.1 and BA.2. In March, cases emerged of the so-called “Deltacron”, a recombinant version of the Delta and Omicron variants. The emergence of new, more transmissible and aggressive variants indicates the risk of versions with greater vaccine evasion, transmissibility and virulence than previous versions. A study by US experts and researchers published this month found the Omicron variant to be as aggressive as previous strains. The work exposes the false narrative that has been propagated in corporate media and by governments for months that Omicron was “soft.”
At the same time, governments’ indifferent and criminal response to public health problems is evidenced by their attitude towards monkeypox cases on several continents. The WHO has held emergency meetings in response to the disease, which may have been spreading undetected for some time. On May 22, the first case of monkeypox was reported in Buenos Aires.
A global response to new outbreaks of COVID-19 is needed, using all necessary public health measures, including distribution of high-quality masks, universal vaccination, travel controls, temporary lockdowns, testing and prevention. contact tracing, which will eliminate the virus in ever larger areas of the world.
The organization and implementation of these measures can only be done by the international working class, with the help of public health experts and researchers. Rank and file committees in every workplace must be organized by workers in Chile, Argentina, Brazil and across Latin America to fight to end the pandemic.