Brazil detects new coronavirus variant similar to South African

SAO PAULO (Reuters) -Brazil has detected a new COVID-19 variant in Sao Paulo state that is similar to the one first seen in South Africa, the head of the state’s Butantan biomedical institute said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a press conference the day after Brazil suffered a record 3,780 deaths in a day, Butantan President Dimas Covas said the patient with the variant had no history of travel to South Africa.

The South African variant has alarmed public health experts as there are questions over how effective current vaccines are against it. Brazil is also grappling with its own homegrown variant, called P1, which appears to be fueling a record-breaking run of infections.

“It is a variant similar to that of South Africa, although there is no history of travel or contact with travelers from South Africa,” Covas said. “There is a possibility that it is an evolution of our P1 towards this mutation in South Africa.”

Brazil is currently grappling with the worst phase of its outbreak, the world’s second-deadliest after the United States. A slow vaccine rollout and lack of social distancing are contributing to Brazil’s spiraling caseload, which is pushing the country’s healthcare system to the brink.

Brazil currently accounts for about a quarter of COVID-19 daily deaths worldwide, more than any other country.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has come under fire for his handling of the pandemic, on Tuesday signed an executive order to disburse 5.3 billion reais ($918 million) in new loans to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new loans will be used to prop up Brazil’s health system, the Finance Ministry said. The Health Ministry, which will receive the funding, said it will use it at over 2,600 public health clinics, as well as to build more hospital beds.

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