New wave of COVID after the elections?: Brazil is once again on alert for the virus

The reduction of cases of COVID-19 in recent months left the feeling that the pandemic was a thing of the past.

But the appearance of a new subvariant, poor adherence to booster doses of vaccines and crowds in the electoral campaign boosted the rate of transmission (Rt), increasing hospitalizations and the risk of a new wave on the eve of the Christmas season.

This Tuesday, the death of a woman in the city of São Paulo, contaminated by the subvariant BQ.1fired the alert again.

The concern first arose in hospitals, where doctors began to see more and more COVID patients.

The impression of the professionals was confirmed by the increase in the Rt of the virus, which after a long time again indicated a high transmission, according to InfoTrackerthe platform of the São Paulo state universities USP and Unesp, which monitor the pandemic in the country.

Stable until October 3, the Rt began to rise in the following days and, a month later, it exceeded number 1, when each patient begins to contaminate more than one person. To contain the transmission of the coronavirus, the Rt rate must remain below this level.

Tests confirm discharges and hospitalizations increase

The reflection of this increase has already been noticed in diagnostic laboratories: the positivity rate rose 17% in Brazil between October 22 and 28according to abramed (Brazilian Association of Diagnostic Medicine).

In pharmacies, positive tests grew 15% between October 17 and 23latest data collected by Abrafarma (Brazilian Association of Pharmacy Networks).

The consequence is that the number of people hospitalized per day also grew. What the Ministry of Health did not consolidate national dataInfo Tracker collected data in the state of São Paulo, where new admissions increased from 80 on October 17 to 168 on November 6.

“With the increase in the transmission rate, an accelerated increase in cases is expected in the next two weeks”the coordinator of the platform, Wallace Casaca, told UOL.
“Deaths have not yet been affected, but they will be in the next two weeks as well,” he warned.

Why is COVID worrying again?

Vaccinated immunity has decreased. The infectious disease Emílio Ribas Institute of Infectious Diseases, Rosana Richtmanexplain what the last time Brazil paid attention to vaccination was in June, during the last peak of the pandemic. “It was the last time that the population massively adhered to vaccination. Five months have passed, which is the average protection time of the vaccine, ”he says.

Casaca of Info Tracker agrees. Remember that replica started in May. “Whoever got vaccinated in May is already vulnerable again”.

Low booster immunization. The situation is even more worrying among those who did not complete the vaccination cycle again or receive the first and second booster doses. The federal government’s Vacunometer indicates that only 16% of the population took the fourth dose, the second of the booster.

Subvariant arrives in Brazil. After being identified in Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sulthe Secretary of Health of the State of São Paulo confirmed this Tuesday the first death of a patient after contamination by a subvariant, BQ.1. A 72-year-old woman with comorbidities died on October 17 after a week in São Paulo Hospital.

Derived from the Omicron BA.5 variant, the BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 subvariants already accounted for 27% of cases in the United States as of October 29. In Germany, France, Italy, South Korea and New Zealand raised the average number of new cases above the high level of 300 per 100 thousand inhabitantsaccording to the WHO (World Health Organization).

The main characteristic of BQ.1 is a much greater escape from vaccine protection thanks to mutations in the spike protein, located on the surface of the virus and responsible for connecting it with the body’s cells.

According to Richtman, the virus evolves because “it wants to win at replication and not necessarily cause serious disease”.

Although it manages to escape more easily from the antibodies produced by vaccines, he says that “the higher the vaccination coverage, the more difficult it will be for the virus to cause deaths and serious cases.”

Crowd in elections

As if the reduction of Brazilian immunity and the arrival of a new version of the virus were not enough, Brazil abandoned the main sanitary measures, such as the use of a mask in the middle of the electoral year, when candidates rally voters at marches and rallies.

“There was a lot of crowding even before the elections, in the two weeks before the vote, which also accelerated the rate of contamination,” says Casaca.

A little over two and a half years after the arrival of the pandemic in the country, in March 2020, Brazil reached the shocking mark of 688,000 deaths, according to data from the Brazilian Ministry of Health.

“I got infected during the campaign”

That happened to chef Patricia D’Ávilla, 46, who was first infected on October 19. “That day, I was out for a walk and Lula was campaigning in Porto Alegre, and I said: ‘I’m leaving.’ That’s where I got it for sure,” she told UOL.

“On Saturday the 22nd I woke up with a severe headache and in my eyes, it was not a little flu. I felt like I was stuck in bed: a week with tiredness and body aches”. Diagnosed, Patricia isolated herself in her house and used paracetamol to reduce symptoms. “It’s been over two weeks and I still have a sore throat,” she says.

Will there be a new wave?

The coordinator of the Info Tracker platform, Wallace Casaca, prefers to call the increase in cases a rebound, since the severity of the cases is less than in the past, with fewer hospitalizations and deaths.

Rosana Richtmann, infectologist at the Emílio Ribas Institute of Infectious Diseases, for her part, says: “I would call it a new wave due to the increase in cases, the arrival of the end of the year holidays and the relaxation of sanitary measures.”.

“I don’t want to scare anyone because the severity of the cases is really much lower, but we do have a trend,” Richtmann says. “It is indisputable that the number of cases is clearly increasing.”

What to do now?

“Viruses change, but the recommendations are the same: the great villain of transmission is our hands: Always clean with alcohol gel or soap to reduce the possibility of contaminating the environment and contaminating yourself.”, advises the doctor.

New wave of COVID after the elections?: Brazil is once again on alert for the virus – First Edition