“Everything is practically open now, and the atmosphere is so different, so much lighter and joyful. We feel safe while the other cities around us are in a very difficult situation,” says Ricardo Luiz, owner of a well-known restaurant in Serrana.
Four months after the kickoff of the experiment known as Project S, this quiet city surrounded by sugar plantations has acquired an atmosphere of pre-pandemic days, Luiz says.
His business is getting back on its feet after one year of hardship and it’s currently bringing in 70% of the revenue it made before the pandemic.
“People feel safe to leave the house,” he says, adding that he no longer feels afraid for his family or acquaintances traversing the city’s hot and dry streets. “We know everyone here, and nowadays it’s rare to hear about cases and deaths,” he says.
Nationwide, Brazil has the second-highest number of deaths from Covid-19 in the world, after the US, and it is heading to its third wave with daily cases and deaths on the rise. Only 10% of Brazil´s population is fully vaccinated.
But people living in Serrana say they’re experiencing a very different reality, thanks to Project S.
Researchers’ full findings from Project S have not yet been peer-reviewed or published. However, according to preliminary results released on June 1, the study showed an 80% reduction in the number of symptomatic cases. Covid-related hospitalizations have fallen by 86% and mortality by 95% — figures hailed by Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria as a good omen for the rest of the country.
According to the study, the immunization generated a kind of “immune belt” in Serrana, drastically reducing the transmission of coronavirus in the municipality even as the virus raged throughout the country.
“The most important result was to understand that we can control the pandemic even without vaccinating the entire population. When coverage reached 70%, 75% (of Serrana’s population), the drop in incidence was noticed even in the group that had not yet completed the vaccination schedule,” said Ricardo Palacios, medical director of clinical research at Instituto Butantan in an interview with CNN International a day after the news conference.
But until the Butantan Institute releases its complete study data and it is peer-reviewed, not everyone is leaping to applaud the results — nor to relax hygiene precautions.
Jose Angelo Marques owns a beauty salon in Serrana, and was fully vaccinated back in April. His business is operating with protocols established by Sao Paulo state government such as limited attending capacity and distancing between customers, and Marques says he won’t lift them until he sees the numbers behind the percentages.
“I wish I could see the numbers. That would make me feel safer,” he says.
He, his wife and his parents all were infected with Covid-19 last year. Most had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic, but Marques’ 81-year-old father died from Covid-19 less than a month later.
Being vaccinated has helped the family to deal with their grief, however, Marque admits. “We have now loosened up a bit. We are now close to each other, hugging each other and that has been helping us a lot to cope with the absence of my father.”
About 330 kilometers away from the state capital Sao Paulo, Serrana is considered a bedroom community, with much of its population commuting to work in larger neighboring cities like Ribeirao Preto. That flow of people caused a high prevalence of Covid-19 infections at the beginning of 2021, according to Marcos…