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A patient with Covid-19 is admitted to hospital in Manaus, Brazil A patient with Covid-19 is admitted to hospital in Manaus, Brazil  (AFP or licensors)

Amazonia sees surge in Covid-19 cases, new Brazilian variants discovered

Catholic institutions report a worrying rise in Covid-19 cases in the Amazon Basin, as Brazilian hospitals buckle under pressure amid the discovery of new coronavirus variants.

By Devin Watkins

The Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) has released its most recent report on the spread of Covid-19 in the Amazon Basin.

Some 40,320 people have died with the coronavirus in the area which spans 9 South American nations.

Brazil’s northern city of Manaus is the worst-hit area, with nearly 4,000 reported deaths.

High pressure, no oxygen

Health officials are warning that hospitals in Manaus are at risk of buckling. They say many people could die, as medical personnel struggle to deal with a surge in coronavirus cases.

Officials in the northern Amazonas state say oxygen supplies are running dangerously low, and have appealed to the US to send military transport planes with oxygen cylinders.

They add that intensive care wards are overflowing, and that patients are being airlifted to other states.

Reports have emerged of hospital staff trying to keep patients alive through manual ventilation.

Viral variants

Researchers, meanwhile, have discovered two new variant of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

Several travelers to Japan from Brazil’s Amazonas state were recently found to have been infected with one mutated form.

Researchers from the Oswaldo Cruz Amazonia Foundation say it likely emerged in northern Brazil between December and January.

The variant features 12 mutations, which include one similar to other variants in Britain and South Africa and linked to higher infection rates.

Increased contact

Yet the surge in cases in Manaus may not be linked directly to the new coronavirus variants.

Jarbas Barbosa, an official at the Pan American Health Organization, says the surge is affecting various cities and states and is more likely related to increased summer travels and close contact.

Britain has banned arrivals from South America, Portugal, and Cape Verde to keep the new variants at bay.

However, a leading British virologist says one of the two is already circulating in the UK.

Scientists say vaccines currently in production should work against these new Brazilian variants, but that further study is necessary to confirm that hypothesis.

15 January 2021, 15:10