Bolivia to speed up vaccinations on border with Brazil

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A shipment of 228,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine which arrived in Bolivia as part of the global scheme Covax are loaded into a refrigerated truck at a military base

Bolivia said Tuesday it will speed up its vaccination campaign in areas that border with Brazil, where a new variant of the coronvirus has emerged.

"We have instructed the Ministry of Health to proceed with the vaccination of all border populations in the country, starting with these, which are the most exposed populations [and] that are adjacent to Brazil," said President Luis Arce.

"We are not exempt from the fact that there may be a strain, a virus that is being generated and reproduced without control, so we have to take precautions," said the president.

Vaccinations in Bolivia had begun several weeks ago in cities and the plan was to gradually roll them out into rural areas, but the government has decided instead to prioritize to border towns.

Health authorities have been closely following reports of the appearance of a new strain of the virus in Brazil, although the health ministry has not confirmed its presence.

Bolivia and Brazil share a border of about 3,400 kilometers (2,100 miles) and three of its nine departments -- Santa Cruz, Beni and Pando -- have borders with Brazilian states.

Local media in Bolivian towns bordering on Brazil have reported an unusual increase in Covid-19 infections in recent days, although the government has not directly linked the uptick with the new Brazilian strain.

Bolivia, with a population of 11.5 million inhabitants, has recorded 270,347 infections and 12,211 deaths from the coronavirus to date.

It reported 719 new cases on Monday, of them 38.8 percent in Santa Cruz, 16.5 percent in Beni and 2.8 percent in Pando.

On Tuesday, the Andean country received a new shipment of 200,000 Chinese vaccines from Sinopharm, in addition to the 740,000 that arrived since January of the Russian Sputnik V, the British AstraZeneca and the same Chinese brand.

The government says it has signed contracts for a total of 15.2 million doses and expects their gradual arrival in the coming months.

Vaccination began in February mainly with health personnel and with at-risk segments of the population.

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