Brazil could reach the figure of one million deaths from COVID-19 by October 2021 if there continues to be high levels of mobility in the national territory, emergence of new variants, and slow vaccination process, according to a study conducted by Russian social scientist Alexei Kouprianov*.
Currently, there are some 14 million infected in the country, which represents 40% of the cases in the region. More than 378,000 have already died from the disease. The average number of new cases in the second week of March reached 65,000 infected, placing Brazil third in the world ranking in absolute numbers and in new daily cases.
Despite the development of a series of vaccines, approved by the World Health Organization, the pace of the pandemic is not slowing down.
According to Kouprianov’s projections, Brazil is going through a third wave of contagions, with the peak likely to have been reached in this second week of April, although this trend can only be confirmed when the course of the pandemic in the coming weeks is observed.
In the study, the Russian scientist simulated three different scenarios, using data from the three Brazilian waves. According to the predictions, with data from the first wave, which covers the period from March 17 to November 1, 2020, Brazil could reach 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 by the middle of 2021.
In the second scenario, using data published by Johns Hopkins University, from November 1, 2020 to February 15, 2021, the country would reach 800,000 deaths by October and surpass 1 million by early 2022.
While the third scenario, based on data published between February 15 and April 15, points to a much more serious trend, in which Brazil would register one million deaths in six months.
The methodology employed takes into consideration the factors that cause a pandemic, such as: existence of the virus, number of contagions, speed of propagation, among others, end up with an “S” image, referring to the logic of the mathematical function applied to obtain the results. That is how the development of the pandemic is seen graphically.
“An epidemic is a highly autonomous process. In a model situation it develops as a wave, slowly gaining speed, then expanding faster, passing a break-point and then slowing down until it reaches its ceiling.”
In the case of the predictions made to analyze the short-term outlook of the pandemic in Brazil, the Russian social scientist performed a scenario extrapolation by applying the recent numbers on top of a preconceived graph model.
“Both projections are rather pessimistic, the projection from the third wave alone is at the moment the most accurate.”
The prediction becomes more feasible to the extent that the situation is left as it is. Both conducts, government sabotage and opposition paralysis, contribute to these numbers becoming closer and closer to reality.
One million deaths are equivalent to 12 full Maracanã stadiums, more than 23,000 buses full of bodies, and exceeds the total population of nine Brazilian capitals: Vitória, João Pessoa, Boa Vista, Aracaju, Teresina, Maceió, Macapá, Campo Grande, and Florianópolis.
A number of empirical factors tend to confirm the trend drawn in the graph.
In 2021, the number of deaths of pregnant women and mothers with newborn children doubled, reaching 289 deaths by April 7.
In addition, coronavirus infection was the main cause for sick leave requests in these first four months of the year, according to data from the National Social Security Institute (INSS).
All over the planet there has also been an acceleration in the lethality of the virus. The first death by the new coronavirus was recorded on January 9, 2020, and it took nine months, or 263 days, to reach the first million deaths. However, next, it took only 108 days to reach the second million deaths on the globe. And finally, only 93 days to jump from 2 to 3 million COVID-19 deaths worldwide.
Brazil has about 2.7% of the world’s population and accounts for about a quarter of all new deaths on the planet.
Brazil: a regional threat
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) warned Latin American governments that the emergence of new variants of the sars-cov2 virus in Brazil would be the main factor that triggered a second wave of the pandemic throughout the region.
The P1 and P2 variants proved to be more aggressive and contagious. In São Paulo alone, P1 generated 64% of the 2.7 million infections.
Both the Brazilian variants and B1, identified in South Africa, suffered mutations in the Spike – protein formation that would be the “hook” of the virus in the wall of the recipient cells (human or animal).
“The mutation in the spike protein causes it to bind with greater affinity to its receptor. In addition, they can escape the action of monoclonal sera for the treatment of COVID-19 and the possibility of bypassing the immune response acquired with the infection or post-vaccine,” confirms immunology expert Paulo Henrique Lisboa Raeder.
Because of this alteration, the antibodies of people who have already been infected with the first strains may not be able to identify the presence of the virus, increasing the possibility of reinfection.
So far, in vitro tests have indicated that all the vaccines developed would be effective in controlling the new strains, however, precisely because no human trials have been conducted, it is still too early to say that they would be completely efficient.
“In order to avoid the emergence of new variants with the risk of being even more transmissible and lethal, we have to collaborate so that the virus circulates less in the population, wear masks, always wash our hands with soap and water or alcohol gel, and respect social distancing are essential in this fight against COVID-19,” assures the doctoral student in biomedicine at the University of São Paulo (USP), Paulo Henrique Lisboa Raeder.
If the projections made by the Russian scientist already offer a very pessimistic view about the future of the pandemic in Brazil, some measures can make the scenario even worse.
Contrary to all WHO guidelines, Brazil, with scarce social isolation policies, continues to have a high population circulation.
In Rio de Janeiro, the state with the highest lethality rate in the country, 4.9%, between March and April there was a 32% increase in urban mobility – the vast majority left their homes to go to work, to the supermarket, and to pharmacies, according to an index prepared by the Google Analytics platform, based on GPS tracking data.
As for Amazonas, the second most lethal state, 3.5%, and where the first P1 cases appeared, there was a 49% increase in crowd circulation rates between March and April.
The context of labor gray market for 40% of the economically active population, added to the food insecurity that affects 125.6 million Brazilians, confirms that the majority leaves the safety of their home for their bread-winning activities.
Moreover, despite the structure and capillarity of the Unified Health System (SUS), or the Brazilian NHS, which in other pandemics has led Brazil to be a model, today the vaccination campaign moves slowly.
The country has vaccinated about 32 million people, fifth in absolute numbers globally, but with an average of only 15 immunized people per million people, according to a survey on the website Our World in Data.
The lack of measures to curb the free circulation of the virus and the coexistence of people already immunized with these new variants creates a kind of time bomb for the explosion of new, more aggressive versions of the new coronavirus.
The breaking of vaccine patents could be a way to accelerate and decentralize the production of the drug worldwide. However, Brazil voted together with the representatives of the great world powers – owners of 75% of the formulas already developed – against the proposal of patent breaking in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In addition, the US Department of Health acknowledged in public reports that it exerted pressure on Brazilian government officials not to approve the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, to avoid greater “Kremlin influence in the region.”
Jair Bolsonaro’s government has also not used the entire budget approved in 2020 for fighting the pandemic, failing to spend R$80 billion – an amount that could pay for up to one billion doses, considering an average value of $15 per dose.
In April 2020, the Army Center for Strategic Studies (CEEEx) published a report that pointed out the trend of uncontrolled pandemic in Brazil if policies were not adopted that took into account: 1) the WHO guidelines; 2) encouraged the application of quarantines; 3) were based on scientific data and studies; 4) were articulated with the state governments, according to four axes: health, political, social, and economic.
A year later, all guidelines were ignored or even opposed by the government.
The Supreme Federal Court (STF) approved the opening of a Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (CPI) to investigate the conduct of President Bolsonaro during the health emergency period.
While the process moves forward, the reality, through patients and lives lost, imposes itself forcefully.
Analysis of the data
The text and the graphics below show the results of a model produced by the independent Russian analyst Alexei Kouprianov to analyze and extrapolate the data on infections and death from COVID-19 in Brazil.
In Figure 1 we see the data on the number of COVID-19 related deaths by day since February 1, 2020 to April 2021. Note that there is a decrease in the last weeks of April, which could indicate that we already passed the peak of the third wave.
Figure 2 deals with the number of new infections by day in the same period. This is not the total number of infected people from the beginning of the pandemic since people can be infected more than once and the lethality can vary according to the different strains.
Figure 3 compares the function used with the already available data, estimating the “predictions” of the results, showing short-term projections given that the current trends continue.
Finally, we come to the extrapolations that can be used as mathematical predictions. In model 1 shown in Figure 4, the data from the second wave was used. With this, it shows that Brazil will reach 500,000 deaths by mid 2021 and 700,000 by the end of 2022.
In model 2, shown in Figure 5, it shows 800,000 deaths as of October 2021, and reaching the 1 million deaths mark by the beginning of 2022. This model is based on more updated data from the third wave.
As we can see, in Figure 6 we can compare the trend of development of the three models (0, 1, and 2). The first follows the same trend as before. After using data from the second wave, model 2 uses from the third wave which points to a more worrying trend.
Michele de Mello is a journalist and graduated from the Federal University of Santa Catarina. She is a correspondent of Brasil de Fato in Caracas and was a presenter at TeleSUR.
Giovanny Simon is a social worker and received his masters degree in social work from the Federal University of Santa Catarina and his masters in history from the Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg, Russia. He is the coordinator of the website and podcast A Coluna and author of the book ‘Eye of the Storm: Lenin’s Party Until 1917.’
*Alexei Kouprianov is a biologist and social scientist. He was a professor of sociology in the Higher School of Economics in the State University of St. Petersburg. He works with big data and develops projections about COVID-19 and the elections in Russia.