Rio de Janeiro, July 2 (efe-epa).- Brazil could have at least 8 million people infected with COVID-19, five times more than the number of cases confirmed by the government, according to a study commissioned by the Ministry of Health that examined blood samples from 89,397 Brazilians in 133 cities.
The results revealed Thursday at a press conference at the Ministry of Health show the high rate of underreporting of cases of the infectious disease in Brazil. The country’s official data places it second in the world for number of deaths, almost 62,000, and with about 1.5 million people infected so far.
According to the study carried out by researchers from the Federal University of Pelotas, 3.8 percent of the people examined between June 21-24 had COVID-19 antibodies in their blood samples. That is, they were infected or already had come into contact with the virus.
Projecting that percentage, the researchers calculated that if 3.8 percent of the 211 million Brazilians have antibodies to the virus, at least 8 million would have been infected at some point in the last four months.
The study was carried out in three stages (the second fortnight in May, first fortnight in June and second fortnight in June) and showed that the number of those with antibodies rose by 23 percent between the second and third stages, well below the jump of 53 percent measured between the first and the second.
While in the first stage 1.9 percent of those analyzed had antibodies (in which case Brazil would have 4 million cases), that percentage doubled to 3.8 percent in the third phase (8 million).
“It is an excellent result because we had measured an increase of 53 percent between the first and second phase, which is a giant leap, and that growth has already slowed. Ideally, it should be less, but it is already a victory,” said Pedro Hallal, the rector of the Federal University of Pelotoas, at the press conference.
In the first stage of the study, the number of people with antibodies detected was seven times higher than the number of confirmed cases at the time; in the second, that ratio was reduced to six and in the last, it fell to five.
In addition to the high degree of underreporting of cases in the country, the study also showed that contagion is growing more among the poor than the wealthy.
“The trend is that the number of people with antibodies increases as the socioeconomic level decreases. Among the richest 20 percent, the percentage of infected was 1.8 percent, and among the poorest 20 percent, 4.1 percent,” said the study.
According to the text, “the difference between the poorest 20 percent and the richest 20 percent increased from 1.1 percentage points in the first phase to 2 points in the second and to 2.3 points in the third.”
It also showed that Blacks and people of color were much more significantly affected (5.6 percent) than caucasians (1.1 percent).
“It also was possible to see that the recent relaxation of social distancing measures in various municipalities has resulted in the curve not going downward, unlike other cities that only lifted quarantine after a consistent drop in the number of new infectionss,” said Hallal.
Despite the fact that the numbers of deaths and cases continue to grow in Brazil, and the country has not reached the peak of its contagion curve, many of the regional and municipal governments launched gradual de-escalation processes, and some such as Rio de Janeiro have already opened shops, restaurants, gyms and even sports tournaments.
“One thing that caught our attention is that in the cities that followed the recommendations and only relaxed when the curve was already descending, such as Manaus (Amazon), you can see that the curve did not rise again. The cities that decided to relax with the curve going up, they made a mistake. And several cities are doing it,” Hallal said.
The study also showed that the percentage of asymptomatic cases is not as high as it was believed, with only 9 percent of people who contracted COVID-19 saying they did not notice any symptoms. EFE-EPA