Hungary to reopen only once past 25% vaccination milestone

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – A record rise in coronavirus infections and deaths keeps Hungary from loosening lockdown measures, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday before his government discussed plans to reopen the economy.

Partial reopening may begin after Easter, once a quarter of the population is vaccinated, the government decided, a senior Orban aide said.

Hospitals are under “extraordinary” pressure in Hungary, a hot spot as the pandemic hits Central Europe especially hard.

Orban, who faces elections in 2022, is balancing the world’s highest daily per-capita coronavirus death rates, according to Johns Hopkins University, with a need to open the economy to avoid a second year of deep recession.

“The next 1-2 weeks will be hard,” Orban told state radio.

Hungary reported a record high daily tally of 275 COVID-19 deaths and 11,265 new infections on Friday. Hospitalizations and people on ventilators are also at an all-time high with doctors comparing the situation to the global pandemic’s worst days.

The premier’s chief of staff said in a televised statement that the government considered business groups’ proposals and decided to wait until first vaccinations reach at least 2.5 million of the country’s 10 million people.

That should come a few days after Easter Monday, Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, said.

“We need one last big effort to make it through the peak of the pandemic’s third wave,” Gulyas said.

Once the milestone is passed shops can remain open until 9:30 p.m. and a nighttime curfew will start at 10 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. now, Gulyas said. The number of people allowed at one time will be limited in shops.

Services can reopen partially. Teachers and school staff will be inoculated to allow schools to reopen on April 19.

Two-thirds of those elderly people who registered, and a total of 1.8 million people, had received a first shot already, Orban said.

The Hungarian Medical Chamber warned people earlier this week to observe strict social distancing.

(Reporting by Budapest bureau; Editing by Toby Chopra and Steve Orlofsky)

Thousands of Venezuelans flee to Colombia amid military operations

By Jhon Freddy Hinestroza

ARAUQUITA MUNICIPALITY, Colombia (Reuters) – Thousands of Venezuelans have fled to Colombia from their homes in the border province of Apure amid military operations there, the Colombian government and some of those displaced said.

Venezuela has said its military is fighting Colombian armed groups in rural areas and has its population’s support.

“When the bombs were falling I felt so nervous,” said Niomar Diaz, 26, who arrived in Colombia by canoe. “In one house a grandfather died, an 8-year-old boy died, a 9-year-old girl and her mom. The situation was terrible.”

Diaz said the Venezuelan military was abusive and his family and several neighbors chose to flee. Reuters could not independently verify his account of the deaths or the alleged abuse.

More than 3,200 people in 780 families make up the group, which began arriving in the Colombian municipality of Arauquita on Monday because of the military operations, Colombia’s migration agency said in a statement on Wednesday.

The border is currently closed due to COVID-19.

“The foreigners are in eight shelters in Arauquita municipality and the national government, the governor of Arauca and the international community are making efforts to provide them with assistance,” the agency said.

Colombia’s foreign ministry on Twitter this week expressed worry over the situation and urged the international community to contribute help for the displaced.

Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, rejected those comments in his own tweet late on Wednesday.

The operations have been conducted against illegal camps of Colombian armed groups to protect civilians, a statement shared by Arreaza said, and two Venezuelan soldiers have been killed.

“Any attempt to violate the territorial integrity of Venezuela will have a forceful reaction,” he said.

Colombia will increase military and police presence in the area, Defense Minister Diego Molano said on Twitter on Wednesday.

Colombia’s government has vehemently criticized what it characterizes as the Venezuelan government’s protection of Colombian rebels and crime gangs. Venezuela has denied protecting such groups.

Colombia said last month it would grant 10-year protected status to some 1.7 million Venezuelans.

(Reporting by Jhon Freddy Hinestroza in Arauquita, additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Sarah Kinosian; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

‘Devastating’ fire at Rohingya camp in Bangladesh kills 15, leaves 400 missing – UN

By Ruma Paul and Emma Farge

DHAKA (Reuters) – At least 15 people have been killed in a massive fire that ripped through a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, while at least 400 remain missing, the U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday.

“It is massive, it is devastating,” said UNHCR’s Johannes Van der Klaauw, who joined a Geneva briefing virtually from Dhaka, Bangladesh. “We still have 400 people unaccounted for, maybe somewhere in the rubble.”

He said the UNHCR had reports of more than 550 people injured and about 45,000 displaced.

Bangladeshi officials are investigating the cause of the blaze even as emergency and aid workers and families sift through the debris looking for further victims. The fire ripped through the Balukhali camp near the southeastern town of Cox’s Bazar late on Monday, burning through thousands of shanties as people scrambled to save their meagre possessions.

“Everything has gone. Thousands are without homes,” Aman Ullah, a Rohingya refugee from the Balukhali camp, told Reuters. “The fire was brought under control after six hours but some parts of the camp could be seen smoking all night long.”

Authorities in Bangladesh have so far confirmed 11 deaths.

Some 40,000 huts in the camp were burned down, said Mohammad Mohsin, secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, after visiting the camp.

Two major hospitals of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Turkish government were also destroyed, he told reporters in Cox’s Bazar.

“A seven-member committee has been formed to investigate the matter,” he said.

Sanjeev Kafley, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’s delegation head in Bangladesh, said more than 17,000 shelters had been destroyed and tens of thousands of people displaced.

More than a thousand Red Cross staff and volunteers worked with fire services to extinguish the blaze, spread over four sections of the camp containing roughly 124,000 people, he said. That represents around one-tenth of an estimated 1 million Rohingya refugees in the area, Kafley said.

“I have been in Cox’s Bazar for three-and-a-half years and have never seen such a fire,” he told Reuters. “These people have been displaced two times. For many, there is nothing left.”

BARBED WIRE

Some witnesses said that barbed wire fencing around the camp trapped many people, hurting some and leading international humanitarian agencies to call for its removal.

Humanitarian organization Refugees International, which estimated 50,000 people had been displaced, said the extent of the damage may not be known for some time.

“Many children are missing, and some were unable to flee because of barbed wire set up in the camps,” it said in a statement.

John Quinley of Fortify Rights, a rights organization working with Rohingya, said he had heard similar reports, adding the fences had hampered the distribution of humanitarian aid and vital services at the camps in the past.

“The government must remove the fences and protect refugees,” Quinley said. “There have now been a number of large fires in the camps including a large fire in January this year… The authorities must do a proper investigation into the cause of the fires.”

The vast majority of the people in the camps fled Myanmar in 2017 amid a military-led crackdown on the Rohingya that U.N. investigators said was executed with “genocidal intent”, charges Myanmar denies.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul in Dhaka and Emma Farge in Geneva; Additional reporting and writing by Alasdair Pal in New Delhi and Euan Rocha in Mumbai; Editing by Jane Wardell and Bernadette Baum)

Children lose parents as thousands flee after Equatorial Guinea blast

By Aaron Ross

(Reuters) – Hospitals have run out of morgue space and are piling bodies into refrigerated shipping containers. Radio and television stations are flooded with calls trying to locate the parents of unaccompanied children. Thousands have fled for the countryside.

Three days after a series of explosions levelled much of Equatorial Guinea’s largest city Bata, killing at least 105 people and injuring more than 600 others, its residents are still coming to grips with the full scale of the tragedy.

Drone footage aired on state television showed block after block of public housing in the coastal city either completely destroyed or close to it, the remnants of their roofs and walls strewn across the neighborhood’s dirt roads.

“There are many children without parents,” said a teacher in Bata, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from the authorities in the tightly-controlled central African country. “In the long (term) what do we do with those children?”

The reclusive government blamed the explosions on fires set by farmers living near the military base and the negligent handling of dynamite stocks by the military unit guarding them.

It has decreed three days of national mourning from Wednesday, declared Bata a catastrophe zone, unblocked 10 billion ($18.19 million) CFA francs for the response and appealed for international aid.

Firefighters continued to comb the rubble on Wednesday for bodies as onlookers wept, state television showed. The authorities appealed for donations of blood and basic goods.

A five-year old girl was pulled on Wednesday from the rubble of a house in the military camp where the blast occurred, Equato-Guinean media AhoraEG said.

Officials have been forced to turn to refrigerated containers to store bodies, said the teacher and Alfredo Okenve, a human rights activist who lives in exile in Europe.

Okenve said his information indicated the number of deaths was between 150 and 200, significantly higher than the government’s official toll of 105.

The government’s information ministry did not immediately respond to written questions.

TRAUMATISED

Bata residents are traumatized from the explosions, which lasted for hours on Sunday, and fearful of additional blasts.

The first explosion “was so big that all of us and the people around us were shouting: ‘This is a bomb, this is a bomb!'” said the teacher.

“People were crying, shouting, running, trying to stay somewhere, but it was panic. We started to see police cars and firemen and people bleeding. It was awful.”

The health ministry said in a tweet that it was deploying psychiatrists and psychologists.

The United Nations said on Wednesday that the World Health Organization and children’s agency UNICEF had mobilized teams to control infection and provide logistical support. Spain has sent a first batch of emergency aid.

The former Spanish colony has been run by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Africa’s longest-serving leader, since 1979.

It is the Central African country’s worst tragedy in recent memory, and while the government, charitable organizations and private citizens have kept everyone fed and sheltered for now, most of Equatorial Guinea’s 1.4 million people live in poverty.

The country is also suffering a double economic shock from the coronavirus pandemic and a drop in the price of crude oil, which provides about three-fourths of state revenue.

State media has provided wall-to-wall coverage of the disaster, including the appeals over the lost children, a rarity in a country that human rights activists consider one of Africa’s most repressive and where bad news is often suppressed.

Okenve said the scale of the tragedy had left the government with no choice.

“If there is information coming out, it is because it is impossible to control,” he said.

($1 = 549.9000 Central African CFA franc BEAC)

(Reporting by Aaron Ross in DAKAR; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

India virus infections at three-week high, Mumbai hires marshals to enforce mask-wearing

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India reported on Friday its biggest jump in new coronavirus infections in three weeks, with 13,193 cases, while thousands of marshals fanned out to enforce mask wearing across the financial capital of Mumbai, which is battling a recent spurt.

The tally of confirmed infections is 10.96 million, the second highest after the United States, with more than 156,000 deaths. But actual infections could range as high as 300 million, a government serological survey showed this month.

In recent days, 75% of India’s new cases have been reported from the southern state of Kerala and Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, a densely populated city of 20 million people. The two states already had the highest number of reported infections.

Health experts suggest the re-opening of educational institutes in Kerala and resumption of suburban train services in Mumbai could be key factors.

After a gap of 11 months, Mumbai resumed on Feb. 1 full suburban train services, which before the pandemic carried a daily average of 8 million people.

The city has begun hiring marshals to enforce mask wearing. Out of nearly 5,000 marshals, around 300 would be deployed on the rail network, city authorities said.

Indians have largely given up on masks and social distancing, Reuters reporting shows.

“Coronavirus … has not yet left the country,” the health ministry said on Twitter. “We still need to follow COVID-appropriate behavior. No carelessness till there is a cure.”

Despite the recent rise in infections, India’s daily tally of new cases remains well below a mid-September peak of nearly 100,000. Testing numbers have also fallen to about 800,000 a day from more than 1 million.

Since starting its vaccine campaign in mid-January, India has administered nearly 10 million doses, aiming to cover 300 million people by August.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das and Anuron Kumar Mitra; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

J&J adds to COVID-19 vaccine armory with 66% efficacy in global trial

By Julie Steenhuysen

(Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson said on Friday that its single-dose vaccine was 66% effective in preventing COVID-19 in a large global trial against multiple variants which will give health officials another weapon to tackle the coronavirus.

In the trial of nearly 44,000 volunteers, the level of protection against moderate and severe COVID-19 varied from 72% in the United States, to 66% in Latin America and just 57% in South Africa, from where a worrying variant has spread.

A high bar has been set by two authorized vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which were around 95% effective in preventing symptomatic illness in pivotal trials when given in two doses.

Those trials, however, were conducted mainly in the United States and before new variants emerged.

The top U.S. infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci said the variations in effectiveness around the world underlined the need to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible to prevent new variants from emerging.

“It’s really a wake up call for us to be nimble and to be able to adjust as this virus will continue for certain to evolve,” Fauci said.

J&J’s main goal was the prevention of moderate to severe COVID-19, and the vaccine was 85% effective in stopping severe disease and preventing hospitalization across all geographies and against multiple variants 28 days after immunization.

That “will potentially protect hundreds of millions of people from serious and fatal outcomes of COVID-19,” Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer, said of the results, which were based on 468 symptomatic cases.

SEEKING APPROVAL

J&J plans to seek emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration next week. It has said it plans to deliver 1 billion doses in 2021 and will produce the vaccine in the United States, Europe, South Africa and India.

Public health officials are counting on the J&J vaccine to increase much-needed supply and simplify immunization in the United States, which has a deal to buy 100 million doses of J&J’s vaccine and an option for an additional 200 million.

J&J said the vaccine would be ready immediately upon emergency approval, but Stoffels declined to say how many doses.

“Right now, any protection and additional vaccine is great. The key is not only overall efficacy but specifically efficacy against severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” Walid Gellad, a health policy associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said.

Michael Breen, Director of Infectious Diseases and Ophthalmology at research firm GlobalData said “Most countries are still desperate to get their hands on doses, regardless of whether or not the vaccine is considered highly effective. Moderately effective will do just fine for now.”

None of the vaccine recipients in the J&J trial died from COVID-19, compared with 5 in the placebo group, the National Institutes of Health said. Three deaths in the vaccine group overall, but none were determined to be from the virus. That compares with 16 deaths overall in the placebo arm, it added.

Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, J&J’s does not require a second shot weeks after the first or need to be kept frozen, making it a strong candidate for use in parts of the world where transportation and cold storage are an issue.

SOUTH AFRICAN VARIANT

Several studies have emerged this month showing that a South African variant has mutated in areas of the virus that are key targets of vaccines, reducing their efficacy.

“What we are learning is there is different efficacy in different parts of the world,” Stoffels told Reuters.

In a sub-study of 6,000 volunteers in South Africa, Stoffels said, the J&J vaccine was 89% effective at preventing severe disease. In the South Africa portion of the trial, 95% of cases were infections with the South African variant.

“I am overwhelmed by the fact that this vaccine protected against severe disease even in South Africa,” said Glenda Gray, the joint lead investigator of the South African vaccine trial.

Gray, who is the chief executive of the South African Medical Research Council, said this is by far the best vaccine for South Africa to fight the mutant strain and can prevent a large number of hospitalizations and deaths.

A mid-stage trial of a Novovax coronavirus vaccine in South Africa also showed lower efficacy, proving to be 60% effective among volunteers who didn’t have HIV. In a separate, late-stage trial in Britain it was 89.3% effective.

In the J&J trial, which was conducted in eight countries, 44% of participants were from the United States, 41% from Central and South America and 15% from South Africa. Slightly more than a third of the volunteers were over 60.

J&J’s vaccine uses a common cold virus to introduce coronavirus proteins into cells in the body and trigger an immune response, whereas the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use a new technology called messenger RNA (mRNA).

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Additional reporting by Manas Mishra, Dania Nadeem and Manojna Maddipatla in Bengalaru and Rebecca Spalding and Michael Erman in New York; Writing by Alexander Smith; Editing by Caroline Humer, Peter Henderson, Edwina Gibbs and Keith Weir)

U.S. disease experts: Don’t travel for Thanksgiving

By Rebecca Spalding and Manojna Maddipatla

(Reuters) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday urged Americans not to travel during next week’s Thanksgiving holiday to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus as cases of COVID-19 spike around the United States.

The travel advice is a “strong recommendation,” not a requirement, CDC official Henry Walke said on a call with reporters. The federal agency said it was making the recommendation after many states across the country experienced a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks.

“We’re alarmed with the exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths,” Walke said.

The CDC advised against gathering with anyone who has not lived in the same household for at least 14 days, the incubation period for the coronavirus. Officials said they were also posting recommendations on their website on how to stay safe during the holidays for those Americans who do choose to travel.

“It is the right advice. We are in a major surge in the U.S. with hospitals inundated,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said at a Reuters forum. “There are some that will travel nonetheless, but, hopefully, they will put in place some common-sense measures to limit the damage the virus can cause.”

While the CDC recommended virtual gatherings, for those who do gather in person, guests should bring their own food and utensils and celebrate outdoors if possible, it said.

If celebrating indoors, it recommends that Americans open windows and put fans in front of open windows to pull fresh air into the room where guests are sitting. It also suggests limiting the number of people near where food is being prepared.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is typically the busiest travel day of the year in the United States, as Americans gather with friends and family around the country. Shares in airlines and hotel companies have plummeted since the outbreak began as government officials have advised against unnecessary travel.

The AAA travel agency has said it anticipates at least a 10 percent drop in the number of travelers this Thanksgiving, the largest single-year drop since 2008. Based on its October models, it forecasts 50 million Americans will travel for the holiday, compared with 55 million in 2019.

With the CDC recommendations, it expects that number now to be even lower.

United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines each said on Thursday that bookings were weakening due to the spike in COVID-19 cases, and United said cancellations were rising.

(Reporting by Rebecca Spalding, Tracy Rucinski, David Shepardson and Lisa Pauline Mattackal; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Peter Henderson)

Fears of COVID-19 resurgence spread to East Coast as grim U.S. records mount

By Maria Caspani and Anurag Maan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths surge across the United States, more signs emerged that a second wave could engulf areas of the Northeast, which managed to bring the pandemic under control after being battered last spring.

In New Jersey, one of the early U.S. hotspots, a spike in cases in Newark, the state’s largest city, prompted Mayor Ras Baraka to implement aggressive measures, including a mandatory curfew for certain areas, to contain the spread of the virus.

New York state and city officials also reported a worrying rise in the seven-day average infection rate that raised the specter of stricter mitigation measures adopted at the height of the pandemic.

“This is our LAST chance to stop a second wave,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote on Twitter on Wednesday as he announced the seven-day average positivity rate citywide was 2.52%. The city’s public school system, the largest in the country, would have to shut down if that figure reached 3%.

“We can do it, but we have to act NOW,” he said.

The United States as a whole reported more than 1,450 deaths on Tuesday, the highest single-day count since mid-August, according to a Reuters analysis.

U.S. COVID-19 cases climbed for seven days straight to reach more than 136,000 as of late Tuesday while hospitalizations, a key metric of the pandemic, crossed 60,000 for the first time since the pandemic began.

In Newark, the positivity rate hovered at 19%, more than double the state’s 7.74% seven-day average, Baraka said in a statement released on Tuesday.

“Stricter measures are required in the city’s hotspots in order to contain the virus and limit the spread,” he said.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced some restrictions on Monday in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases in the state, and outbreaks among bartenders.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press release on Tuesday that New York’s positivity rate had climbed above 3% for the first time in weeks.

In Maryland, where the positivity rate stood at 5.6% on Wednesday, officials warned about rising COVID-19 hospitalizations. More than 800 people were being treated for the coronavirus at state hospitals as of Wednesday, according to Mike Ricci, the communications director of Governor Larry Hogan, the highest daily count since April, a Reuters tally showed.

A record number of people died of coronavirus in several Midwest and western states on Tuesday, including in Alaska, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Officials in states hardest-hit by the virus pleaded with residents to stay home as much as possible and heed the advice of experts by wearing masks, washing their hands and social distancing.

“It’s not safe to go out, it’s not safe to have others over — it’s just not safe. And it might not be safe for a while yet,” Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said during a primetime address on Tuesday. “So, please, cancel the happy hours, dinner parties, sleepovers and playdates at your home.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Anurag Maan in Bengaluru, Editing by Nick Macfie)

Florida reports record increase in COVID-19 deaths for second day in a row

(Reuters) – Florida reported a record increase in new COVID-19 deaths for a second day in a row on Wednesday, with 217 fatalities in the last 24 hours, according to the state health department.

Florida also reported 9,446 new cases, bringing its total infections to over 451,000, the second highest in the country behind California. Florida’s total death toll rose to 6,457, the eighth highest in the nation, according to a Reuters tally.

(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Chris Reese)

Bolsonaro threatens WHO exit as COVID-19 kills ‘a Brazilian per minute’

By Lisandra Paraguassu and Ricardo Brito

BRASILIA (Reuters) – President Jair Bolsonaro threatened on Friday to pull Brazil out of the World Health Organization after the U.N. agency warned Latin American governments about the risk of lifting lockdowns before slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus throughout the region.

A new Brazilian record for daily COVID-19 fatalities pushed the county’s death toll past that of Italy late on Thursday, but Bolsonaro continues to argue for quickly lifting state isolation orders, arguing that the economic costs outweigh public health risks.

Latin America’s most populous nations, Brazil and Mexico, are seeing the highest rates of new infections, though the pandemic is also gathering pace in countries such as Peru, Colombia, Chile and Bolivia.

Overall, more than 1.1 million Latin Americans have been infected. While most leaders have taken the pandemic more seriously than Bolsonaro, some politicians that backed strict lockdowns in March and April are pushing to open economies back up as hunger and poverty grow.

In an editorial running the length of newspaper Folha de S.Paulo’s front page, the Brazilian daily highlighted that just 100 days had passed since Bolsonaro described the virus now “killing a Brazilian per minute” as “a little flu.”

“While you were reading this, another Brazilian died from the coronavirus,” the newspaper said.

Brazil’s Health Ministry reported late on Thursday that confirmed cases in the country had climbed past 600,000 and 1,437 deaths had been registered within 24 hours, the third consecutive daily record.

Brazil reported another 1,005 deaths Friday night, while Mexico reported 625 additional deaths.

With more than 35,000 lives lost, the pandemic has killed more people in Brazil than anywhere outside of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Asked about efforts to loosen social distancing orders in Brazil despite rising daily death rates and diagnoses, World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris said a key criteria for lifting lockdowns was slowing transmission.

“The epidemic, the outbreak, in Latin America is deeply, deeply concerning,” she told a news conference in Geneva. Among six key criteria for easing quarantines, she said, “one of them is ideally having your transmission declining.”

In comments to journalists later Friday, Bolsonaro said Brazil will consider leaving the WHO unless it ceases to be a “partisan political organization.”

President Donald Trump, an ideological ally of Bolsonaro, said last month that the United States would end its own relationship with the WHO, accusing it of becoming a puppet of China, where the coronavirus first emerged.

Bolsonaro’s dismissal of the coronavirus risks to public health and efforts to lift state quarantines have drawn criticism from across the political spectrum in Brazil, where some accuse him of using the crisis to undermine democratic institutions.

But many of those critics are divided about the safety and effectiveness of anti-government demonstrations in the middle of a pandemic, especially after one small protest was met with an overwhelming show of police force last weekend.

Alfonso Vallejos Parás, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said infections are high in Latin America as the virus was slow to gain a foothold in the region.

“It is hard to estimate when the pace of infection will come down,” he said.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Ricardo Brito; Additional reporting by Gabriela Mello in Sao Paulo, Gram Slattery and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro and Adriana Barrera in Mexico City; Editing by Brad Haynes, Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler)