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UPDATE 1-Venezuela detects Brazilian variant of coronavirus in the country -President Maduro

(Adds more context; Maduro quotes)

CARACAS, March 3 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday said authorities have detected the Brazilian variant of the novel coronavirus in the country.

Officials have recorded cases of the coronavirus variant in Caracas, the capital, and in two states in the center and south of the country, the president said in a live appearance on state television.

“We have 10 patients: six in Bolívar, two in Caracas and two in Miranda,” Maduro said. “It is a variant that is more contagious, transmits more viral load and is more dangerous, more serious,” he said, adding “You have to cut the chains of contagion.”

Venezuela has reported more than 139,900 coronavirus cases and 1,344 deaths, but medical experts believe the figure is higher.

Maduro said health authorities have “modestly started” the vaccination process in the country, prioritizing medical professionals and teachers.

He urged officials prioritize inoculation in areas where cases of the Brazilian strain were detected.

The country, he added, would continue its “seven plus seven” quarantine plan, which alternates between seven days of “strict” quarantine during which many government offices, businesses and other services are more limited and seven days of “flexible” quarantine, during which the policy is relaxed.

Venezuela received the first 100,000 doses of Sputnik V on Feb. 13 and has said it invested $200 million to buy 10 million doses.

Maduro on Monday said that 500,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine had arrived in the South American nation, along with protective material for medical personnel.

Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez received the shipment on Monday night, state media reported.

“The Chinese vaccine will reinforce the immunization process,” Maduro said on Twitter late on Monday.

An adviser to opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized by the United States and dozens of other countries as Venezuela’s leader, said the country could begin receiving coronavirus vaccines through the global COVAX program in May. (Reporting by Sarah Kinosian Editing by Chris Reese and Aurora Ellis)

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