By Eduardo Simões and Pedro Fonseca
SAO PAULO (Reuters) -Brazil has detected a new COVID-19 variant that is similar to the one first seen in South Africa, the head of Sao Paulo's Butantan institute said on Wednesday, as Latin America's biggest country notched another record daily death toll.
Butantan President Dimas Covas said the patient with the variant had no history of travel to South Africa. The South African variant has alarmed public health experts as there are questions of how effective current vaccines are against it. Brazil is grappling with its own homegrown variant, called P1, which appears to be fueling a record-breaking run of infections.
"It is a variant similar to that of South Africa, although there is no history of travel or contact with travelers from South Africa," said Covas, whose biomedical institute is run by Sao Paulo state. "There is a possibility that it is an evolution of our P1 towards this mutation in South Africa."
Brazil reported a daily record of 3,869 new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, with 90,638 new coronavirus cases in the prior 24 hours, the Health Ministry said.
Brazil is grappling with the worst phase of its outbreak, which has already killed more than 321,000 Brazilians, the world's second-highest death toll after the United States.
A slow vaccine rollout and lack of social distancing are contributing to Brazil's spiraling caseload, which is pushing the country's healthcare system to the brink.
Brazil currently accounts for about a quarter of COVID-19 daily deaths worldwide, more than any other country.
At the first meeting of a new committee to combat the pandemic, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga called for mask wearing and social distancing alongside congressional leaders.
But Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has come under fire for his handling of the pandemic, appeared unmasked after the meeting and repeated his criticism of state government's orders restricting economic activity to fight the contagion.
(Reporting by Eduardo Simoes in Sao Paulo and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de JaneiroAdditional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu in BrasiliaWriting by Gabriel StargardterEditing by Brad Haynes and Sonya Hepinstall)