A month and a half after the biggest reopening of schools in Brazil since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are clear indications that the new coronavirus is infecting a growing number of children, as well as reports in Brazilian media of COVID-19 children of the dead. This coincides with the spread of the more infectious Delta variant across the country, now accounting for 62.4% of cases.
For infected children who survive, the damage could be disastrous. In an interview with the World Socialist Website, Lucas Ferrante, a researcher at the renowned Amazonian National Research Institute (INPA), warned: “We are creating a generation” that will experience multiple known and unknown effects of COVID-19.
Although Brazil records a drop in the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19, as of September 15, it had 793 deaths and 14,780 new cases, numbers that represent a major underestimate of the real situation. In total, the country has recorded 590,000 deaths – just behind the United States – and more than 21 million cases.
In the Federal District, the infection of children and young people under the age of 19 has skyrocketed. The incidence of cases in this age group fell from 3% in March 2020 to 14% last month, with two of 14 child and youth deaths from COVID-19 occurring in August. According to the teachers‘ union SINPRO, there are now 98 schools in the district with recorded cases, a 30 percent increase in 10 days.
In MaringÃ¡, the third largest city in the southern state of ParanÃ¡, with 400,000 residents, COVID-19 pediatric and neonatal intensive care beds registered 100% occupancy last week. Media have reported the deaths of two children, one six and one 11, in the state in the past two weeks. By the end of August, ParanÃ¡ had recorded 166,479 cases and 101 deaths from COVID-19 of children and young people under the age of 19.
In early August, after in-person learning resumed, Rio de Janeiro recorded 64 hospitalizations of children under the age of nine, the highest number since the start of the pandemic. In mid-August, 36 cities in the state, including the capital, Rio de Janeiro, were forced to close their public public schools due to the high number of cases.
In SÃ£o Paulo, 3,600 cases were registered in public schools across the state in August. Of this total, 78 percent of cases involved students. This week, the maximum student occupancy rate in many public public schools has increased from 50% to 100%. Day care centers in the state capital, SÃ£o Paulo, also returned to 100% this week.
On September 6, the city of Queimadas in Bahia suspended classes after the death of a six-year-old girl, Ana VitÃ³ria Oliveira MercÃªs, from COVID-19. On September 12 and 13, Brazilian media reported the deaths of two more children under the age of six in the states of Mato Grasso do Sul and Minas Gerais.
The reopening of schools nationwide will undoubtedly worsen an already dire situation in Brazil. COVID-19 has already killed 1,581 young people aged 10 to 19 in the first half of 2021, making it the leading cause of death from disease for this age group. 1,187 other children under the age of 10 have succumbed to the virus since the start of the pandemic, nearly half of whom are under two years old. Brazil is the country with the highest number of child deaths from COVID-19 in the world.
Lucas Ferrante, a researcher from the Amazon National Research Institute (INPA) who spoke to the WSWS about childhood deaths and infections, was one of the most critical Brazilian scientists of the collective immunity policy of fascist President Jair Bolsonaro and the reopening of schools. Ferrante also denounced the federal government’s indigenous environmental and genocidal policies, which earned him a series of death threats.
In August last year, three months after a devastating first wave of COVID-19 in Manaus, Ferrante was the lead author of a letter published in Natural medicine warning of the risk of a second wave if schools and non-essential services were not closed in the city. In January of this year, horrific scenes of people dying from lack of oxygen shocked the world.
At the end of August, he led a study published in the Public health policy review, titled “How the President of Brazil Turned the Country into a Global COVID-19 Epicenter”. He established that “The emergence of the Gamma variant in Manaus [at the end of last year] occurred as a result of the federal government’s strategy of encouraging contagion in children with the return of in-person classes so that the population attains collective immunity. The Gamma variant is responsible for two-thirds of deaths from COVID-19 in Brazil.
Although questioned by mainstream national and foreign media about the pandemic in Brazil, Ferrante said his denunciations of the danger of reopening schools are almost always hushed up. “I have been interviewed by all the major international mediaâ The world, New York Times, CNN International âAnd the only agenda that they do not want to advance, that we notice that publishers are blocking, is that of the risks of [in-person] Classes.”
“The emergence of the Gamma variant was due to the return of face-to-face classes”
According to Ferrante, a week after the reopening of primary schools in Manaus in early October last year, âthere was a 40% increase in urban mobility … and those people who were in social isolation began to live. together … dramatically increasing community transmission in the city.
He continued, âExactly 21 days after the massive return, which is the period of the viral cycle, you have an explosion of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. … We see that the emergence of the Gamma variant coincides with this explosion of cases generated by [increased] urban mobility âwith the reopening of schools. In his August article, Ferrante ruled out the role of the November elections and New Year’s celebrations in the emergence of this variant, events which he said have only further increased transmission.
This process, he added, would not have happened if the children had not played a role in the transmission: âIt is impossible for the Manaus scenario to happen if these people [going to school, including children] did not participate in active transmission. In fact, children transmit as much as adults, and this has accelerated community transmission.
Ferrante denounced the hypocritical claim made by governments around the world that schools must reopen because of the psychological damage caused by social isolation. “No one disputes that social isolation causes psychological damage,” he said, but, he added, “Why is there no discussion of the psychological damage of loss? a breadwinner, the loss of a grandparent, a mother? “
In Manaus, Ferrante said: âYou had a family that lost 12 adults, [the child] lost his father, mother and grandparents. Look at the COVID orphans who have emerged. These families are completely shattered. According to a study published in The Lancet in June, 130,000 children in Brazil lost at least one of their guardians.
In addition to the damage caused by the loss of a loved one, Ferrante points out: âFor children, in general, you have kidney, neurological, motor and heart damage. … We are creating a generation with the aftermath of COVID-19. Will we have social security for these people in the future? We will not be able to afford to retire people with disabilities, and many people will not be able to work and develop the activities they should have because of COVID-19. “
Although children can transmit the virus as easily as adults even when they are asymptomatic, Ferrante explained, âIn fact, children have a lower death rate than adults. But with the advance of new variants and increased exposure to the virus with the reopening of schools, children are increasingly infected and this is creating higher mortality. He warned, “There is no safety for children. “
“As the Delta variant spreads across Brazil, it will be much worse than in other countries”
Ferrante took issue with claims circulated by Brazilian media that the situation in Brazil is different from the global experience with the Delta variant, as the country has seen a recent downward trend in cases and deaths. He insisted that âindeed, Brazil is going to be different from these other countries, [but] it’s going to be a lot worse because we have half the vaccination rate âof countries recently affected by the Delta variant. Today, only 35 percent of the Brazilian population is fully vaccinated.
“Brazil (…) should take restrictive measures to slow the spread of the Delta variant,” Ferrante said.
It should be done with a combination of vaccinations and social isolation, he said: âWe have been quite frank in saying: vaccination is extremely important. But we also need social isolation because once community transmission exceeds our vaccination rate, we need to end it, which can only be done with social isolation. “
“Bolsonaro has made Brazil the global epicenter of COVID-19”
Bolsonaro’s open policy of collective immunity, along with the various mitigation measures adopted by governors of all political parties and unions, have made Brazil “the global epicenter of the pandemic as we are concentrating the greatest number. of variants “, according to Ferrante.
âWe have 92 strains in circulation in Brazil. With their transmission and mutation, there is a risk of recombination. If you have a person who has a double, triple infection … you can recombine the genetic material between one variant and another … and a super-variant between Beta and Delta can emerge. It would be catastrophic, because Beta is the variant that deviates the most from vaccines, and Delta is the most transmissible. “
As with Manaus and the Gamma variant, the grand reopening of schools can accelerate this process and prolong the pandemic for years. âThe worst thing we are seeing from the return of face-to-face classes is an increase in community transmission which can generate new variations,â Ferrante warned. “You’re not just killing people todayâ¦ you’re extending the pandemic another two or three years because a vaccine-resistant variant is going to emerge at some point, which is very serious.”
The fight to close schools in Brazil as part of a global strategy to eradicate the coronavirus is advanced by the Rank-file Committee for Safe Education in Brazil (CBES-BR). This struggle requires the independent mobilization of the working class so that every measure well known to scientists is used to stop the pandemic and save lives. No death can be “normalized”. Follow the CBES-BR Facebook and contact us to be part of this fight.