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

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Passersby outside the Palacio de Bellas Artes in the main square of Mexico City's Zócalo, Mexico, on April 6, 2021 during the COVID-19 health emergency and the orange epidemiological traffic light in the capital. Mexico is the thirteenth most infected country in the world and has the third highest number of deaths due to the pandemic, behind the United States and Brazil, according to Johns Hopkins University. (Photo by Gerardo Vieyra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Passersby outside the Palacio de Bellas Artes in the main square of Mexico City’s Zócalo, Mexico, on April 6, 2021 during the COVID-19 health emergency and the orange epidemiological traffic light in the capital. (Photo by Gerardo Vieyra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Brazil has recorded its first confirmed case of the highly contagious coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa, a fresh danger sign for a country already ravaged by the world’s highest daily death toll fueled by a widespread local variant.

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

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

“It could be a huge duel,” said Maria Carolina Sabbaga, one of Butantan’s coordinators for studying new variants. “I think P.1 has already taken over. I’m not sure if the South African will overtake P.1, let’s see.”

The South African variant in studies appears to lessen protection from current vaccines.

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

The outbreak in South America’s largest country may overtake the United States to become the world’s deadliest, some medical experts predict.

José Patané, a Butantan researcher, said the South African variant most likely arrived in Brazil after traveling through Europe toward the end of 2020.

The first local diagnosis, a woman in her 30s in the city of Sorocaba, had not traveled abroad or come into contact with someone who did, indicating local community transmission, researchers said.

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