Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said the Omicron strain that’s causing a surge in COVID cases at home and abroad could be called a “vaccine virus” and is a “welcome” variant.
“Some studious and serious people -- and not linked to pharmaceutical companies -- say that Omicron is welcome and can in fact signal the end of the pandemic,” Bolsonaro said Wednesday in an interview with Gazeta Brasil website.
Bolsonaro has stood out globally for his defiant stance in the face of the pandemic, repeatedly dubbing it “a little flu” despite the more than 600,000 Brazilians who have died from the virus in the past two years. The president, who is up for re-election this year, has been digging in to his position against vaccines. He vowed to not allow his daughter to receive the shot and promised to continue to fight against lockdowns, even as Omicron makes landfall in the country, causing cases to surge past 70,000 a day. For most of December, daily infections rarely surpassed the 10,000 mark.
But while hospitalizations have ticked higher in Brazil in recent weeks, so far there hasn’t been an onslaught of patients seeking intensive care units like in mid-2021, before vaccines were widely available. It’s a similar pattern to that seen in countries from Argentina to South Africa and Denmark, and one that has fueled a change to how some nations approach the pandemic.
Despite the seemingly more mild effects of the variant, medical experts warn it could still overburden hospitals and health systems because of how quickly it spreads. Omicron has become the dominant variant in many places, including the U.K., U.S., and Brazil.