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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. 

 

The rising Covid cases following year-end holidays have filled emergency rooms across the continent-sized nation and led to a massive jump in demand for tests. On Wednesday, private laboratories, hospitals and pharmacy chains like Rede D’Or Sao Luiz SA, Diagnosticos da America SA and Raia Drogasil SA said they were limiting the amount of tests available to the general public, prioritizing hospitalized patients with more severe symptoms, health-care professionals and essential services workers. 

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, first spotted in November, has become the dominant strain in many places, including the U.K., U.S., and Brazil. 

 

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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