The COVID pandemic: a growing threat from Brazil?

Globally, as of 12:39pm CET, 17th March 2021, there have been 120.2m confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 2.7m deaths, reported to WHO. The volume of new reported cases began trending lower from w/c 4th January 2021 and new deaths began trending lower from w/c 18th January 2021. The steep decline in new infections was very encouraging, however, new infections began to trend high again from w/c 15th February 2021. This increase has been driven by increasing infection rates across all major regions, excluding Africa and the Western Pacific. The WHO is currently assessing the drivers behind these increases although initially “it appears to be due to relaxing of public health measures, continued circulation of variants and people letting down their guard”[1].

Global weekly new infection count:

A growing threat from Brazil?

Since the start of 2021, the majority of regions were reporting declining rates of new infections and deaths, however, Brazil was reporting increases. Over the past few weeks there has been a “high” increase in the incidence of new infections and deaths as well as a rapid increase in ICU bed occupancy. The mid-west and southern regions of Brazil have been reporting more than a 96% ICU bed occupancy. There is a worryingly increase in the proportion of people testing positive for COVID-19 as well as a significant increase in the case fatality rate. Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of Health Emergencies at the WHO commented that “some parts of the country are coming under extreme threat” and that “there is very little resilience and capacity left in the [Brazilian healthcare] system”. On the 12th March, the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros, characterised the situation in Brazil as “deeply concerning” and “very serious”. One of the major concerns is that Brazil neighbours the majority of countries within Latin America and if the situation continues to deteriorate, it has the potential to negatively impact the whole of Latin America, but it could also go beyond this. Another concern is that for as long as the virus is not suppressed, it will have the opportunity to evolve and the risk from changing variants could be even higher than the current known variants. Within Brazil, the P1 variant is currently circulating which is of great concern because this variant has a number of mutations that can increase transmissibility and there are some studies that suggest that there is increased transmissibility associated with this variant. Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead on COVID-19 commented “there are several studies underway of this P1 variant, to quantify transmissibility and looking to quantify severity. There are some suggestions of increased severity.”

Brazil weekly new infection and death count:


[1] Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, 1st March 2021