Brazil is currently dealing with a fresh surge of COVID-19 cases as the soccer-obsessed country assembles in large numbers to watch the World Cup.
According to official statistics, the number of new cases of COVID-19 in Brazil increased last week by 230% from early November to a level not seen since August. From single digits deaths in October, there were 116 on Tuesday.
On days when there are World Cup games, many Brazilians take the day off work to watch the matches in pubs and restaurants or at backyard barbecues, cheering on their country as it competes for its sixth World Cup championship in Qatar.
"At every gathering there is a high possibility of transmission, because it's very easy to catch," Margareth Dalcolmo at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a biomedical research center in Rio de Janeiro said.
New coronavirus sub-variants and delayed vaccine boosters are raising alarms among public health specialists.
Brazilian health regulator ANVISA announced late on Tuesday that face masks would be required again in airports and on all flights to prevent the spread of the virus.
It also decided on Tuesday to approve the use of two new vaccines made by Pfizer Inc that protect against the Omicron sub-variants BA.1 and BA.4/BA.5 as well as the original virus, to be used as boosters.
Experts say the delay in rolling out vaccines to tackle highly infectious new variants added to the surge in contagions.
The BQ.1 strain of the Omicron sub-variant BA.5 strain, which causes milder symptoms in persons who have received their full dose of vaccination, is the leading cause of new infections in Brazil. Despite the fact that hospitals are seeing an increase in patients, this wave is likely to result in fewer deaths than previous ones, according to health officials.
The COVID-19 outbreak has claimed about 690,000 lives in Brazil, the second-highest official death toll in the world (after the United States).
On Thursday, when Brazil makes its debut in Qatar, experts advised supporters to wear masks if they were indoors and follow all essential hygiene precautions to prevent infection.
Brazil starts its campaign for Qatar 2022 against Serbia as the tournament favorite and with huge expectations.
Brazil is the only team to have competed in every World Cup since its inception in 1930, and this is its 22nd appearance in the global extravaganza. The South American powerhouse has won 12 of its last 15 group matches and has finished first in each edition since 1982.
Brazil has won both of their previous meetings with Serbia, including a 2-0 victory in the last World Cup group stage.