BOGOTA, Colombia

Brazil has been immersed in a second wave of coronavirus infections since November that is still far from finished.

The average number of daily infections in seven days was 16,916 on Nov. 8. On March 27, it was 77,129.

The South American nation has registered 13.9 million infections and more than 374,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

On April 8, it reached a grim record in daily deaths with 4,249 fatalities The figures have made Brazil the epicenter of the pandemic and its most populated state, Sao Paulo, has not escaped unscathed.

From April 11 to 17, it registered 104,445 new cases and 5,690 deaths.

Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria has not only openly denounced Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic that he said was the direct cause of thousands of deaths but has also gained national and international recognition for defending and promoting vaccinations in Brazil, the production of the CoronaVac vaccine and development of the ButanVac jab at the state-owned Butantan Institute.

For his efforts, he is emerging as a candidate for the coming presidential election in 2022.

Anadolu Agency (AA): In recent weeks, the state of Sao Paulo has experienced the worst moment since the start of the pandemic. Despite the numbers of infections and deaths, what has your government done to avoid a health collapse like the one seen in Manaus?

Joao Doria (JD): First thing: We took restrictive quarantine measures in Sao Paulo. We’ve had a quarantine since March of last year. Therefore, we’ve carried out 13 months of quarantine to guarantee social distancing, the mandatory use of medical masks and more recently, since Jan. 17, vaccines.

Nine out of 10 vaccinated Brazilians receive CoronaVac, the same vaccine that was also used in Turkey and that we produce here in Sao Paulo, together with the Sinovac laboratory in China.

In addition, we adequately prepared the public and private system for this second wave of the pandemic which, unfortunately, was much worse than the first wave we had last year.

AA: Many Latin American countries are beginning to experience the new behavior of the pandemic caused by the Manaus strain. What advice can you give the mayors and presidents of the region to avoid a collapse of the health system?

JD: The best recommendation is vaccinate, vaccinate and vaccinate. Vaccinate as quickly as possible the largest number of people. The only way to immunize and protect lives is the vaccine.

As long as the vaccines are not applied in the mass immunization plan in the countries, we have to use medical masks, obey social distancing, make hand hygiene and the necessary care so that people especially with comorbidities, other diseases, and older people are protected, as well as health personnel because we depend on them to guarantee people’s lives.

Those would be our most important recommendations, not the only ones, but the most significant.

AA: One of the best news we have heard about the pandemic in recent months is the creation of the first 100% Brazilian vaccine against the coronavirus. Please tell us more about the vaccine, how it differs from others and what remains of the process to bring it to market.

JD: That is a new vaccine, the second vaccine from the Butantan Institute. We already have one that is being applied in Brazil [CoronaVac] and the Butantan Institute developed a second vaccine called ButanVac. It is based on the same principles of the flu vaccine of which Brazil is already the largest producer in the southern hemisphere of the planet.

The ButanVac vaccine will begin tests in the next month of May and will continue in June and July, there are three months of tests. It is a much shorter period of study because it follows a principle that Butantan has already been developing for decades in Brazil for the flu vaccine.

Our expectation, if Anvisa [Sanitary Surveillance Agency] approves the three phases of studies is that in August we could start the vaccination with this biological, entirely produced here in Brazil. We won’t need to import the supplies that currently come from China.

AA: When will the ButanVac vaccine be ready for purchase by other Latin American countries?

JD: Next year. The priority in this circumstance is to vaccinate the entire Brazilian population, naturally. When that vaccination is done, by the year 2022, all the countries of the world will have to be vaccinated annually until we have a drug that prevents contagion, which does not yet exist. So, the Butantan factory will provide to the Latin American continent as of next year, on a large scale and with a low cost per unit of ButanVac.

Studies will show if it can be applied in a single dose. Everything indicates that it is, but we have to wait for the three phases of the clinical studies to be sure that one dose of the vaccine will suffice.

AA: Sao Paulo has the same population as countries like Argentina and greater than those of countries like Peru or Chile. What were the obstacles or problems that you had to face during the pandemic?

JD: Sao Paulo has the same population as Spain, 46 million inhabitants, and practically the same size as Spain, to make a comparison with a country in Europe.

Our greatest current difficulty, first, is the lack of national coordination to combat the pandemic. We have a President of the Republic Jair Bolsonaro who does not recognize the seriousness of the pandemic and never acted to combat it properly.

He didn’t provide vaccines. he bought chloroquine instead of buying vaccines. He didn’t stimulate social distancing. He didn’t encourage the use of medical masks and he attacked governors and mayors with every quarantine measure that states and municipalities adopted.

These made the fight against the pandemic very difficult and, unfortunately, helped many people believe that we aren’t experiencing a pandemic and that we should not close shops, restaurants, bars. In addition, this made a part of the population believe that Bolsonaro was right.

That is why today in Brazil we have two difficulties: Fighting the COVID-19 virus and fighting the “Bolsonarovirus” of President Bolsonaro.

If we had a president of the republic who had acted correctly since the beginning of the pandemic, we would have saved at least half of the population that, unfortunately, has lost their lives in Brazil.

AA: Do you believe that the investigation ordered by the Supreme Court against the government of President Bolsonaro will help combat the pandemic?

JD: The manifestation made by the Federal Supreme Court, which is the Supreme Court of Brazil, determining an investigation by the parliamentary commission in the Senate to investigate the actions of the federal government is absolutely necessary.

The Bolsonaro government has been a complete disaster in managing the pandemic. A genocide was practically carried out here in Brazil. I even understand that international courts should have been triggered to judge Jair Bolsonaro as a murderer, as a genocidal man because of the cavalier way in which he administered a pandemic as serious as this and that, unfortunately, he ended up taking many Brazilians to their deaths, Brazilians who could have been saved.

AA: You have gained regional leadership during the pandemic, precisely because of the importance of the Butantan Institute and because of vaccines, the ButanVac one. Some people, some analysts say that you can be or you would like to be president in 2023. Do you have that goal?

JD: This is not the time to discuss the elections, we have to focus on vaccination and the salvation of Brazilians, and then discuss the elections, which will be in 2022. There, a great mobilization will be necessary in Brazil to avoid the risk of another mandate for Jair Bolsonaro.

I’m a defender of democracy. Jair Bolsonaro is an aggressor of democracy. I defend life, he defends death. I don’t depend on politics, he does. I’m independent, I’m a liberal. I come from the private sector. I completed my entire career in the free initiative [which avoids state interference in the economy]. Every month I return all my salaries as governor for the solidarity purchase of food and help the poorest, the most vulnerable population in my state.

If I can help in the future, I’ll help. I love my country, I like Brazil very much, I love Brazilians very much and I’d do anything, first, to save lives with the Sao Paulo vaccine, which is the Butantan vaccine, the CoronaVac. Later, if I could contribute to help save Brazil, I will. But for that, I don’t need to be a candidate for the presidency of the republic. I need to be a citizen with voice, strength and courage.

AA: Governor Doria, on behalf of Anadolu Agency, thank you very much for granting us this interview.

JD: Thank you very much for the opportunity. I want to show my respect for Turkey. Brazil is a country that received a very large migration of Lebanese and Turks who helped, especially Sao Paulo, to strengthen and grow. We have a lot of respect for the culture that helped contribute to the greatness of the state of Sao Paulo and to its miscegenation, making this state a benchmark state for Brazil.

*Maria Paula Trivino contributed to this story

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