The worsening of the coronavirus pandemic in Brazil, with a record number of cases and deaths, is leading neighboring countries to strengthen their measures against the spread of the disease at the borders.
At dawn on Saturday (13), the measure that still restricts flights to Brazil, in addition to Mexico, Peru, Chile and the United States, was published in the Official Journal of Argentina. Earlier this year, the government had already determined a 50% reduction in flights to and from Brazil. The reduction in air travel to Brazil will now be an additional 20%.
Foreign tourists from neighboring countries will no longer be able to enter Argentina also by land. Currently, only Argentines and residents can enter Argentine territory.
There is a worrying increase in (coronavirus) cases in the region. With the new measures, we want to gain time to increase the vaccination of people at risk, ”said Minister of Health, Carla Vizzotti.
Uruguayan Health Minister Daniel Salinas said on his social media that he would send more doses of Covid-19 vaccine to “protect” and “safeguard” the region on the border with Brazil.
New strains worry the authorities
Concern grew last week, Uruguayan sources said, when reports of the health drama surfaced in Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, with the lack of beds and the number of victims rising. fatal to Covid-19.
“We are very concerned and in particular about the P.1 variant, the strain of Manaus, since the situation has worsened in Porto Alegre. Our country has a lot of links with southern Brazil,” said Uruguayan virologist Rodney. Colina at BBC News Brazil.
It is part of the coronavirus genome sequencing consortium, formed by the Uruguayan government, the University of the Republic and the Institut Pasteur, in Montevideo. Researchers in the consortium are tracking strains of the virus in the country, which could be both Brazil and Europe, Colina said.
He said that, in the case of the variations initially detected in Brazil, until a few days ago, “P.1 did not enter and P.2, that of Rio de Janeiro, did” in Uruguay.
Specialist at the Cenur Litoral laboratory, in the city of Salto, linked to the University of the Republic, the virologist explained that the concern is justified by the “speed with which the virus is spreading”, and that this high transmissibility could ” put pressure on the Uruguayan health network “.
With around 3.5 million inhabitants, Uruguay launched the national vaccination campaign against Covid-19 about ten days ago. On Wednesday (10/3), the government sent reinforcing doses to Rivera, a department bordering Santana do Livramento, in Rio Grande do Sul. Rivera has the highest Covid-19 rates in Uruguay, followed by Cerro Largo, also on the border with Brazil.
According to Uruguayan advisers, doses of CoronaVac should immunize people between the ages of 18 and 59 who have had some comorbidity.
The vaccination campaign in the country has different characteristics from those carried out in neighboring countries, such as Brazil and Argentina, where vaccination started with people over 80 years old.
Based on the guidelines of a special advisory committee – with doctors, virologists, mathematicians, among others, the Uruguayan calendar included, at first, education professionals (not teachers), police officers, firefighters and military personnel active up to the age of 59.
“We gave priority to people aged 55 to 59 because that’s what we had authorized (through the advisory committee). From now on, we will give priority to groups aged 60 to 70 or 65 to 70 and, in 14 days, to groups over 85, ”Minister Salinas said on Thursday (11).
Requests to close borders to prevent Brazilians from entering
Vaccination in the neighboring country is based on data on vaccine effectiveness by age groups, among other characteristics. In addition to CoronaVac, which will begin to be used in people aged 60 to 70, the country received shipments on Wednesday evening with the first 50,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. With the new doses, the vaccination of healthcare professionals began on Friday (12).
The initial schedule has been adjusted to strengthen the border region with Brazil, a country whose situation has been described as “tragedy” and “collapse” in the Argentinian and Bolivian press.
Bolivian El Diario, for example, published Friday that “the tragedy in Brazil puts the region in danger”. On the same day, Argentina’s La Nación wrote on its cover: “The pandemic collapses in Brazil”. Last week, the Argentinian press already underlined that “Porto Alegre repeats the scenes of Manaus and suffers from the sanitary chaos”.
Fears that the Brazilian variants are gaining ground in Argentina have led a popular Argentinian communicator, Mauro Viale of TV América, to suggest that the government of President Alberto Fernández close the land borders with Brazil as soon as possible.
“There are several Brazilian truck drivers entering Argentina every day. Explain to me why the borders are not closed?” Viale said. He also said that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had declared that the person wearing the mask was a “ maricón ” (homosexual) and that he hoped that in Argentina people would continue to use protective measures and other preventive measures against the coronavirus.
Concern over the arrival of other strains of the coronavirus into the country has prompted governors to ask the government to suspend travel by Argentines and residents of the country abroad, including Brazil, as said. the president of the Argentinian Society of Infectious Diseases, Omar, at the BBC. News Brasil Sued.
On Friday, the decree signed by the president expired, which set, almost a year ago, restrictions on the entry of foreigners into Argentine territory. Preventive measures were extended until April, after Fernández met his team at Casa Rosada on Friday.
“The governors want to buy time while more people are vaccinated in the country. It is a precaution so that new strains are not spread by Argentina,” said Sued.
According to him, the South African strain is the most worrying because it turns out to be the most resistant to vaccines. But he made a reservation: “There is also a lot of concern here about the Manaus strain, due to the speed of its transmission.”
Last year, Argentina created a commission that tracks the genome of the coronavirus. So far, four samples with variants from the UK have been found, the transmission of which is already considered “communal” as two of them had no connection with people who had traveled abroad, such as the virologist Humberto Debat, of the National Institute of Agricultural Technology mentioned.
Debat, who is part of the Argentinian Interagency Project for the Genomics of SARS-CoV2 (Country), said that during the screenings, 43 samples were detected with strains from Rio de Janeiro and, to a lesser extent, from Manaus, with only four cases. The group of researchers understands that, for the moment, the Manaus variant is not circulating in Argentina.