Medical workers take care of patients in the Emergency room of the Nossa Senhora da Conceicao Hospital, which is overcrowded because of the coronavirus outbreak, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, March 11, 2021. Diego Vara was elected REUTERS Diego Vara.
On Friday, Brazil asked women to delay getting pregnant until the worst of the pandemic passes, saying that the virus variant that is devastating the South American country seems to affect expectant mothers more than the earlier versions of coronaviruses.
The recommendation comes as Brazil continues to be one of the global epicenters of the pandemic, with more Brazilians dying of the virus every day than anywhere else in the world.
The hospitals are buckling under the strain and the stocks of drugs required for intubating severely ill patients are run perilously low, with Brazil turning to international partners for help with emergency supplies.
If it's possible, delay pregnancy for a better moment, said Health Ministry official Raphael Parente during a news conference on Friday.
He said the recommendation was partly due to the stress on the health system, but also due to the more easily transmissible Brazilian variant known as P. 1.
The clinical experience of specialists shows that this new variant acts more aggressively in pregnant women, Parente said.
COVID -19 cases during pregnancy were focused on the first trimester and birth, while lately there have been more serious cases in the second and sometimes third trimester, he said.
Parente did not give more details; the P. 1 variant, which was first discovered in Brazil, has rapidly become dominant in the Amazon city of Manaus.
It is believed to be a major factor behind a second wave of infections that have brought the country's death toll to over 350,000- the second highest in the world behind the United States. Brazil's outbreak is increasingly affecting younger people, with hospital data showing that more than half of all patients in intensive care were aged 40 or younger in March.
Read More President Jair Bolsonaro has held lockdowns and also held large events in which he often does not wear a mask. He has only embraced vaccines as a possible solution recently, but the inoculation rollout has been plagued by delays and missed targets for getting people inoculated.
According to local media, vaccinations were stopped in several cities this week due to a shortage of vaccine supply. The spike in COID- 19 cases has also left hospitals short of sedatives needed for patients who need mechanical ventilation.
An emergency shipment of drugs from Spain arrived late on Thursday from China, while donations from Brazil are expected to arrive next week.
Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo both have sounded the alarm over shortages, with Sao Paulo's health secretary says this week that the city's ability to care for seriously ill COVID 19 patients is on the brink of collapse.
Despite the shortage of drugs and 85% of occupied intensive care beds, Sao Paulo announced on Friday that it would begin reopening stores and restaurants, saying the number of new hospitalizations had fallen sufficiently to do so safely.