Brazil on Thursday became the second country to pass 400,000 deaths from COVID-19 after the United States, and experts have warned the daily toll could remain high for several months due to slow vaccinations and loosening social restrictions .
Brazil recorded 3,001 new deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 401,186 deaths, the health ministry said.
A sharp wave of coronavirus infections this year has pushed hospitals across the country to the edge of their capacity and led to 100,000 deaths in just over a month.
Brazil’s COVID-19 deaths fell slightly from a single-day high of over 4,000 in early April, prompting many local governments to ease lockdowns.
But infectious disease experts have warned that this easing will keep the death toll high for months, as vaccines alone cannot be relied on to contain the virus. Two experts said they expected deaths to continue to exceed an average of 2,000 per day.
“Brazil will repeat the same mistake as last year,” said epidemiologist Pedro Hallal, who led a national study on COVID-19.
“What will Brazil do now? Go back to easing restrictions and that will stabilize us at 2,000 deaths per day, as if 2,000 deaths from a single disease in one day were normal,” he said.
India recently passed Brazil in terms of average daily deaths, although Brazil has a higher cumulative toll despite having a population one sixth the size of India.
The spike in infections is due to the variant of the coronavirus P.1 discovered in Brazil, which is thought to be 2.5 times more contagious than the original version.
The vaccine rollout, with only around 13% of people having received a vaccine to date, has not been enough to contain the spread without social restrictions, said Diego Xavier, a researcher at the government institute of health Fiocruz.
He also predicted that more than 2,000 deaths per day would become the norm without a major acceleration in vaccinations, as has been seen in countries like the United States.
Experts blamed the death toll on the government’s failure – from President Jair Bolsonaro to many state governors and mayors – to launch a sufficiently strong response to the pandemic.
“We have reached this number of 400,000 deaths mainly because of the managerial incompetence of this government, headed by the president,” said Jamal Suleiman, doctor at the Emilio Ribas Institute of Infectology.
Bolsonaro has played down the severity of the virus from the start, opposed strict lockdown measures, has not strongly endorsed masks, and has only recently adopted vaccines.
The vaccination campaign failed with the health ministry over the weekend, saying 30% less vaccines were received than expected from January through April.
Many municipalities are running out of vaccines and cannot give a second injection as planned, while others have seen long lines as many people fear supplies may not last.
On Thursday, the first batch of Pfizer vaccine (PFE.N) from Brazil arrived in the country. The initial delivery was just over one million doses, with the US company expected to deliver 100 million doses by the end of the third quarter.
Bolsonaro insists the country must resume operations as usual, arguing that the economic hardships of Brazilians are just as severe as the pandemic itself.
The Senate this week launched a special committee to investigate possible wrongdoing in the government’s response to the pandemic, promising to call current and former senior officials in the Bolsonaro administration to testify.
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