Brazil detects first case of South African variant as COVID-19 deaths increase

By Pedro Fonseca

RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 7 (Reuters) – Brazil registered its first confirmed case of the highly contagious variant of coronavirus discovered in South Africa, a new danger signal for a country already devastated by the world’s highest daily death toll, figures that they are driven by a widespread local variant.

Last week, scientists from the Butantan biomedical institute said the case, identified in a woman in the state of Sao Paulo, could be a new local variant. Further analysis confirmed it as the first known local case of the variant widely circulating in South Africa and other countries.

Scientists fear a showdown between the South African variant and the already rampant Brazilian variant, known as P.1, which are more contagious and possibly more deadly than the original version of the coronavirus and which have led to accelerated increases in COVID-19.

“It could be a huge duel,” warned María Carolina Sabbaga, one of the coordinators of Butantan for the study of new variants. “I think P.1 is already dominant. I’m not sure if the South African (variant) will overtake P.1, we’ll see.”

In studies, the South African variant appears to decrease the protection of current vaccines.

Brazil is in the midst of a brutal COVID-19 wave, posting record deaths on a weekly basis. On Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported a single-day record of 4,195 deaths.

The outbreak in the largest country in South America may overtake the United States and become the one that kills the most worldwide, some medical experts predict.

José Patané, a Butantan researcher, said that the South African variant likely reached Brazil after spreading across Europe towards the end of 2020.

The first local diagnosis, a woman in her 30s in the city of Sorocaba, had not traveled abroad nor had she come into contact with someone who did, indicating a local community transmission, the researchers said.

(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca, Written by Jake Spring, Edited in Spanish by Manuel Farías)