Coronavirus

As COVID Explodes In Brazil, Serrana Becomes World's First Fully Vaccinated City

As part of a medical study, the mid-sized Brazilian city of Serrana is now nearly 100% vaccinated, even as the rest of the country is crumbling under COVID's toll.

Back in February when the first vaccinations began in Serrana
Back in February when the first vaccinations began in Serrana
Alessio Perrone

As Brazil lost another 3,462 of its citizens to COVID-19 on Wednesday, a little-known city of 45,000 in the center of the country had a very different story to tell: Welcome to Serrana, believed to be the world's first city to be immunized against COVID-19.

Facing a highly contagious variant and poor public management, Brazil is currently the country worst-hit by the pandemic, accounting this month for one of every four COVID-19 deaths and a overall death toll above 360,000. But this town's entire population has been vaccinated against COVID and walks mask-free; its health workers only treating a small number of lingering coronavirus cases.

Located some 300 kilometers north of São Paulo, Serrana has been distributing to all its residents since February two doses of Sinovac, a Coronavirus vaccine developed in China, as part of "Project S," a Brazilian study. Researchers hope the project will help settle pressing questions about COVID-19 vaccines, such as: Can someone who is vaccinated still transmit the virus? Does the vaccine work against variants? What exactly is the efficacy of China's vaccine, given that even Chinese authorities have recently recognized its shortcomings?

More than 97% of the population is vaccinated.

Serrana was chosen for the study because it used to be a hard-hit community, though that would be hard to tell now. Vaccinations ended on April 11, with researchers vaccinating 97.7% of the target population. Infection rates have plummeted. So has the number of people turning up at hospitals with respiratory problems. According to O Globo"s Valor Economico, it has been a week since anyone has been intubated.

The law still requires residents to wear masks and comply with social distancing, at least until the study's initial results are published, presumably in May. Yet impatience seems to spreading fast in Serrana, and many residents already act as if the pandemic is over. Estado de São Paulo reporters who visited the town saw several group gatherings and said many residents had ceased to wear masks.

Hope, too, seems contagious. Business owners who saw revenue drop by an average of 10% during the 2020 lockdown now appear relieved. They are joined by dozens of companies around Brazil who contacted local authorities hoping to set up a branch in Serrana. "The expectation is that businesses will be allowed to reopen this month, even if at 30% capacity," restaurant owner Ricardo Tadeu Lisi told Valor Economico. He said his revenues fell 70% in 2020, and he had to close down, renegotiate salaries and dismiss 14 employees — but now he hoped to reopen soon.

"It takes time to get back to normal, but we hope that 2021 will be a better year than 2020," he said. "There is a light at the end of the tunnel."

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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