Brazil recorded more than 4,000 deaths related to the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) in 24 hours for the first time as a new surge of the disease filled the country’s hospitals and morgues.
With 4,195 deaths on Tuesday, April 6, Brazil came close to the peak U.S. daily death toll of 4,476 recorded on Jan. 12, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Brazil’s COVID-19 death toll is now almost 337,000, next only to the U.S. To date, Brazil has recorded more than 13 million cases of COVID-19. Some 66,570 people died with COVID-19 in March, more than double the previous monthly record.
Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, a former regional coordinator of the country’s pandemic response team, described Brazil’s response to the crisis as a “complete calamity.”
“It’s the largest human tragedy in Brazilian history,” he said. “We may get to 500,000 deaths by July 1, that’s the latest estimate.”
Nicolelis quickly corrected himself, citing the estimates released by the University of Washington. “If the rate of transmission goes up by about 10 percent, we could get to 600,000 deaths,” he said.
“It’s a nuclear reactor that has set off a chain reaction and is out of control. It’s a biological Fukushima,” he said, referring to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan that was sparked by a tsunami in 2011. (Related: Brazil relives the worst of the pandemic as coronavirus cases and deaths surge anew.)
According to Nicolelis, Brazil is threatening to undermine the entire effort of the international community to control the pandemic on the planet.
“If Brazil is not under control, then the planet is not going to be safe, because we are brewing new variants every week… and they are going to cross borders,” he said.
Despite the recent spike in its COVID-19 death toll, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro maintained that there would be “no national lockdown.”
“We’re not going to accept this politics of stay home and shut everything down,” Bolsonaro said, resisting the pressure in a speech in the city of Chapeco in Santa Catarina state. “There will be no national lockdown.”
Last month, Bolsonaro told people in Rio de Janeiro to “stop whining” about the virus. On Tuesday, he criticized quarantine measures and suggested that they were linked to obesity and depression.
Other government officials also insisted that Brazil will soon be “back to normal.” Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said: “We think that probably two, three months from now Brazil could be back to business.”
Bolsonaro has seen his popularity go down amid heavy criticism of his handling of the pandemic. He has shifted his focus to immunizations recently, pledging to make 2021 the year of vaccinations.
However, the country has struggled with the rollout of its program. Critics said his government was slow in negotiating supplies. Only around 8 percent of the population had been given at least one dose, according to the Our World in Data tracker.
Health experts and Bolsonaro’s political opponents demanded stricter measures to slow down the spread of the virus.
In an open letter published Tuesday in the newspaper O Globo, the Brazilian Association of Collective Health called for a three-week nationwide lockdown.
“The serious epidemiological situation that is leading to the collapse of the health system in several states requires the immediate adoption, without hesitation, of strict restrictive measures,” the statement said.
The country is fighting a more transmissible variant of the virus that has swept the nation in recent months. According to reports, 92 variants have now been detected in the country – including the P.1 or Brazil variant, which is thought to be much more contagious. (Related: Another Plandemic? P1 said to be “a different pandemic from the one we saw last year” – Brazil is the target.)
The preliminary results of an ongoing study involving 67,700 healthcare workers in Manaus – where a more contagious variant of COVID-19 was detected this year – seemed to confirm earlier findings that China’s Sinovac vaccine is effective against the virus.
A press release published Wednesday mentioned a 50 percent efficacy rate after the administration of just one of the vaccine’s two doses.
The study involves researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine, the Yale School of Public Health and Brazil’s state-run Fiocruz Institute. In its own preliminary study, Sao Paulo’s Butantan Institute had also found in March that the vaccine was effective against the P1 variant.
With mass vaccinations curtailing the U.S. outbreak, Brazil has quickly become the epicenter of the pandemic. According to a new analysis by Reuters, the country is contributing about one in four deaths per day globally.
Brazil has set daily death records every week since late February. Patients with COVID-19 are occupying more than 90 percent of intensive care unit beds while several states have reported short supplies of oxygen and sedatives.
Epidemiologist Ethel Maciel said the country was in a “dreadful situation.”
“At the rate we’re vaccinating… the only way to slow the extremely fast spread of the virus is an effective lockdown for at least 20 days,” she said.
Some can’t help but take a shot at the president.
“The fact is the anti-lockdown narrative of President Jair Bolsonaro has won,” said Miguel Lago, executive director of Brazil’s Institute for Health Policy Studies, which advises public health officials. “Mayors and governors are politically prohibited from beefing up social distancing policies because they know supporters of the president, including business leaders, will sabotage them.”
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