A sleepy town in the Brazilian countryside has found itself at the centre of a coronavirus-fuelled real estate rush after plans to vaccinate its entire adult population were unveiled.

The research institute Butantan announced last weekend that it would vaccinate the entire adult population of Serrana, a little-known backwater 200 miles north of São Paulo, as part of a study into herd immunity.

The announcement sparked a sudden race to rent or buy properties in Serrana, which has around 46,000 inhabitants, in the hope of benefiting.

“I’ve been in the real estate business for 30 years and I’ve never seen people trying to buy property with such haste,” one local estate agent, Manoel de Oliveira, told the news website iG.

“There were people who – when there was nothing to rent – would say: “I want to buy then. I’ll pay up front. How much do you want?”

Local media reports suggested vaccine-chasing buyers had called in from as far afield as the north-eastern states of Bahia and Ceará, the capital Brasília, and the southern states of Paraná and Santa Catarina.

Marcela Amaral, another estate agent, told the Estado de São Paulo newspaper that her firm had received more than 50 approaches: “There are people who offer to pay a whole year’s rent just to have the property for a month.”

The race to be included in Serrana’s trial – which will run from 17 February to 10 March and use the Chinese-produced CoronaVac – is easy to explain.

Brazil has the world’s second highest Covid death toll after the US, with more than 236,000 fatalities. On Thursday, 1,452 deaths were recorded, the highest number since late July 2020. But Brazil’s government has dragged its feet over immunising the country’s 212 million citizens. Its far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has claimed he will refuse vaccination and been mocked for suggesting Pfizer’s vaccine might turn recipients into crocodiles.

Vaccination began in the third week of January and more than 4.5m shots have been administered, but there were signs this week that cities including Rio and Salvador were running out of shots. On Thursday, Bolsonaro urged Brazilians to return to work, despite the worsening crisis. “There’s no point in staying at home crying – it won’t get you anywhere,” he said.

It is unclear how many property deals were struck in Serrana this week, but such tactics may prove useless. The mayor, Léo Capitelli, warned newcomers would not be able to sneak into the scheme since authorities had already registered genuine residents.

This content first appear on the guardian

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