Mérida, January 3, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government has started a vaccine booster campaign to counter the recent arrival of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
An estimated 570,000 healthcare workers are due to receive the additional dose from Monday, with other at-risk sectors to be progressively attended to, including 3.6 million elderly and 2 million adults with various health conditions.
State workers, police and security personnel and those who work with the public are to be included in the campaign’s second phase, while booster shots for the general population who have been fully vaccinated for at least six months will begin in February.
After blockade-related complications in purchasing Covid-19 vaccines during 2020, Health Minister Carlos Alvarado assured the country that “over 18 million vaccines are guaranteed” last week, potentially covering around 55% of the population. He went on to detail that Venezuela already has 6.7 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik Light vaccine, and 12.7 million of China’s Sinopharm are due to arrive this month. Alvarado also claimed that the country is due to begin local production of Cuba’s Abdala vaccine shortly.
Authorities announced 144 new Covid-19 cases and two additional deaths on Sunday, bringing the totals to 445,000 and 5,333, respectively. The first seven cases of the Omicron variant were detected in late December in passengers arriving from the UK, Colombia and other destinations.
“We have to fight so that the Omicron variant doesn’t take over the country and we can start 2022 with an active economy, an active country,” President Nicolás Maduro told reporters during his end-of-year address on New Year’s Eve. His latest comments followed earlier statements affirming that there was “no international scientific report that establishes the real threat of this variant.”
According to Maduro, 91% of the population has been vaccinated and cases are down to five in every 100,000 people. The president went on to explain that this reported success was due to having “sown consciousness” in the population and not having relied on “restrictive measures or curfews.” He also downplayed rumors that more relaxed quarantine measures during December were to be reversed in the New Year.
Health authorities’ Covid-19 figures are, however, considered to underestimate the real situation given a lack of testing, amongst other factors. NGOs and international agencies have likewise claimed that vaccination totals are lower than officially reported.
For his part, Health Vice-Minister Gerardo Briceño offered more precise data on December 16, telling reporters that 82% of the population had received one dose and only 55% were fully vaccinated.
Maduro optimistic for 2022
The Venezuelan president struck a similarly positive tone concerning other areas during his end-of-year address on Friday.
During the review of 2021, he highlighted a number of sports and cultural achievements, including a historic Olympic performance, a Guinness World Record for the largest orchestra, the Vatican’s beatification of Venezuela’s 19th-century medical icon José Gregorio Hernández and the incorporation of the country’s San Juan Drum Festival into UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
He likewise pointed out that the Great Housing Mission successfully reached its goal of building 3.9 million houses, setting a new target of 5 million homes by the end of 2024.
Concerning the economy, the president echoed a number of independent estimates suggesting a more positive forecast for 2022, arguing that the country is “in a period of recovery.” He alleged a “7.5% growth [in the economy] during the second semester of 2021.”
Venezuela has been mired in an economic recession since 2014. Official data indicates a 65% GDP contraction between 2013 and 2019, while other sources place the figure as high as 80% between 2013 and 2021.
Economic growth is heavily tied to the oil industry, with Maduro praising the sector’s recent reported uptick with “Venezuelan investment.” He additionally claimed that the petrochemicals industry is 90% back to strength. The latest data from the Organization of Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC) placed November’s crude output at 625,000 barrels per day, having increased moderately with Iranian assistance after hitting decades lows in the second half of 2020. Fuel shortages also persist in many parts of the Caribbean nation.
Finally, the president congratulated the National Electoral Council on holding regional and local elections last year, stating that it was “an example to the world.”
The ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) swept the elections, despite winning only 46% of votes. A regional re-run is scheduled to be held this Sunday in Barinas state after opposition candidate Freddy Superlano, who was leading the count, was ruled ineligible to hold office by the Supreme Court. Former Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza replaces incumbent governor and losing PSUV candidate Argenis Chávez as the government looks to hold on to the traditionally Chavista state.