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Letter from the Editor | 292

Crucial numbers

Little is known about viruses. Existing on the boundary between the living and the nonliving, they are found in all environments where there is life. Their effects on living beings can be beneficial, harmless, or capable of triggering devastating epidemics, such as Ebola, Zika, and now, SARS-CoV-2.

Although the number of species is estimated in the hundreds of thousands, only 6,500 have been described, of which 250 cause diseases in humans. These elegant biochemical parasites, as they are described by virologist Eurico Arruda, due to their ability to infiltrate cell command centers and then propagate and evolve within the organism, first emerged at least 3.5 billion years ago. Special editor Ricardo Zorzetto delves into this mysterious universe in a comprehensive report on page 20.

The importance of data in the fight against the novel coronavirus is a theme that permeates much of this issue, as summarized in the opening article. Efforts to increase COVID-19 testing, a close look at Brazil’s compulsory case notification system, and a report on the mathematical models of infectious diseases that have guided public policy for 250 years clearly illustrate the crucial nature of numbers. Their importance is also highlighted in an article on the difficulty of making projections about GDP in the absence of normal indicators. Warnings of an inflammatory syndrome seen in a small number of children, which could be caused by a delayed reaction to the virus, are addressed on page 36. Since young children are the least affected by the disease, data on how these patients are affected are still scarce.

The pandemic figures continue to rise quickly. At the time of writing the previous editorial, 3.2 million people had been infected with the novel coronavirus worldwide, with 230,000 deaths; now, at the beginning of June, the number of cases has more than doubled to 6.6 million, with 388,000 deaths. Brazil is contributing significantly to the COVID-19 statistics, with the second-highest number of cases in the world and moving towards third place in fatalities. The magnitude of the numbers makes it difficult to gauge the true scale of the tragedy, which The New York Times called an incalculable loss in a memorable front page on May 24, marking 100,000 deaths in the USA. Among the 23,402 deaths recorded by the Brazilian Ministry of Health in May was Rubens Foiani, the father of Greice, who works in Pesquisa FAPESP’s subscriptions department, and with whom so many readers have spoken. The entire team wishes to express its solidarity with the family.


In 2019, a total of 12,000 km² of land was deforested in Brazil, according to data from the First annual report on deforestation in Brazil, published by MapBiomas, an initiative run by the nongovernmental organization Observatório do Clima to map land use in the country. Almost all of the deforested area was located in the Amazon (63%) and Cerrado (33.5%) biomes, and 99% was cleared illegally. Despite together representing 3.5% of the total, the Caatinga, Pantanal, and Pampa biomes are not covered by continuous deforestation monitoring programs, making it difficult to obtain a precise picture of the situation in these ecosystems.