devastated by the virus in mid-2020. But the second wave there was worse than the first.

While the data is far from conclusive, initial studies indicate that P.1 is more transmissible than the initial virus, and is associated with a higher death rate among younger patients and patients without pre-existing conditions. It can also reinfect people who have already had Covid, though it’s unclear how often that occurs.

37 countries, but appears to have spread most thoroughly through South America, said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University.

Across the region, doctors say that the patients coming into hospitals are now far younger and far sicker than before. They’re also more likely to have had the virus already.

In Peru, the National Health Institute documented 782 cases of likely reinfection in the first three months of 2021 alone, a surge from last year. Dr. Lely Solari, an infectious disease doctor with the institute, called this “a very significant underestimate.”

Official daily death tolls have exceeded previous records in recent days in most of South America’s biggest countries. Yet scientists say that the worst is yet to come.

Our World in Data, a project at the University of Oxford. Several of its neighbors have achieved half that, or less.

the first in the world to record more than 100 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

The actual death toll is far higher, because many of the dead have not been included in the official count of coronavirus patients.

government study in the capital, Lima, found that 40 percent of residents had coronavirus antibodies. Officials said the population had reached such a high level of immunity that a second wave might not be so bad. The government opted not to impose a lockdown during Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

jumped the line to get vaccinated first. More recently, multiple government agencies have begun investigating whether some health workers have asked for bribes in exchange for access to scarce hospital beds.

“It was that or let her die,” said Dessiré Nalvarte, 29, a lawyer who said she helped pay about $265 to a man who claimed to be the head of the intensive care unit at a hospital in order to get treatment for a family friend who had become sick.

The crisis has plunged nations like Peru into grief, ripping at the social fabric. This month, thousands of poor and newly poor Peruvians began to occupy empty swaths of land in southern Lima, with many saying that they were doing so because they had lost their livelihoods amid the pandemic.

Rafael Córdova, 50, a father of three, sat on a square drawn in the sand that marked his claim to land overlooking the Pan-American Highway and the Pacific Coast.

Before the pandemic, he explained, he was supervisor in the human resources department of a local municipality, and had a grip — or so he thought — on stability.

Then, in May, he became sick with Covid and was fired. He believes his bosses let him go because they feared that he would sicken others, or that his family would blame them if he died.

He now struggles to pay for minutes on the one family phone so that his children can do class work. Meals are small. Debts are mounting. “Today I went to the market and bought a bag of fish bones and made soup,” he said.

He says he has lost an aunt, a sister-in-law and a cousin to Covid, as well as friends. In June, his wife, who had also had Covid, gave birth to twins prematurely. One daughter died days after birth, he said, and the second died about a month later. He had no money for a proper burial.

“I left the hospital with my daughter in a black plastic bag and got in a taxi and went to the cemetery,” he said. “There was no Mass, no wake. No flowers. Nothing.”

When he heard about the occupation, he said he was three months behind on rent and feared eviction. So he made a run for the hill, pitching a tent that became his new home.

“The only way they’ll get us out of here,” he said, “is if we’re dead.”

A week later, the police arrived, set off tear gas — and booted him and thousands of others from their camp.

Reporting was contributed by Isayen Herrera in Caracas, Venezuela; Sofía Villamil in Bogotá, Colombia; and Daniel Politi in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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