For the first time since the pandemic began, Brazil has registered more than 4,000 deaths in a 24-hour span. The macabre toll points to a troubling trend in the country that already has the second most COVID-19 deaths of anywhere in the world, as a new variant known as the P.1 that is thought to be more contagious.
The P.1 is one of nearly 100 variants that have been detected in Brazil, which has now registered about 337,000 deaths from COVID-19. By January of this year, the P.1 had accounted for nearly three-quarters of all coronavirus cases in the South American country. Experts say it is likely to lead to more cases and deaths than the original strain.
Brazil’s efforts in curbing infection rates have been stymied by their own president’s policies and rhetoric around coronavirus, saying it is akin to the common flu and suggesting that the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine can cure it. President Jair Bolsonaro said again Wednesday that there would be no national lockdown.
“The fact is the anti-lockdown narrative of Bolsonaro has won,” said Miguel Lago, the head of Brazil’s Institute for Health Policy Studies in an interview with the Associated Press. “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.”
Brazil is currently registering more than 100,000 new cases per day, which is by far the highest daily average in the region. March saw the highest amount of deaths from COVID-19 of any previous month in the past year.
Officials from the Brazilian Association of Collective Health called Tuesday for a three-week lockdown in Brazil.
“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,” they said in a written statement.
Brazil also remains behind in vaccinating its people. As Chile continues to outpace the region in vaccinations, Brazil has only given at least a single dose to 8 percent of its population. Between 2 and 3 percent of Brazilians are fully immunized due to vaccines.
Critics say that Bolsonaro and Brazil’s government were late to secure pharmaceutical contracts, leaving the country in the precarious situation it now finds itself in.
“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,” local epidemiologist Ethel Maciel told Agence France-Presse.
Michael has been a reporter covering Latin America since 2014. He has lived and worked in Costa Rica, Colombia and Mexico. His work from the region has appeared in The Guardian, The Associated Press and Vice.