Brazil’s brutal surge in COVID-19 deaths will soon surpass the worst of a record January wave in the United States, scientists forecast, with fatalities climbing for the first time above 4,000 in a day on Tuesday as the outbreak overwhelms hospitals.
Brazil’s overall death toll trails only the U.S. outbreak, with nearly 337,000 killed, according to Health Ministry data, compared with more than 555,000 dead in the United States.
But with Brazil’s healthcare system at the breaking point, the country could exceed total U.S. deaths, despite having a population two-thirds that of the United States, two experts told Reuters.
“It’s a nuclear reactor that has set off a chain reaction and is out of control. It’s a biological Fukushima,” said Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian doctor and professor at Duke University, who is closely tracking the virus.
On Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported another 4,195 COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, well above the country’s prior single-day record. Brazil has set daily death records every week since late February, as a more contagious local variant and meager social distancing efforts fuel an uncontrolled outbreak.
Gravediggers wearing protective suits handle bags with bones during exhumations to open space on cement graves as new burials are suspended, except private deposits and children, at Vila Nova Cachoeirinha cemetery amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.REUTERS
With mass vaccinations curtailing the U.S. outbreak, Brazil has become the epicenter of the pandemic, contributing about one in four deaths per day globally, according to a Reuters analysis.
President Jair Bolsonaro has pushed back against mask-wearing and lockdowns that public health experts consider the best way to lessen virus transmission.
The country dragged its feet last year as the world raced to secure vaccines, slowing the launch of a national immunization program.
Despite the recent surge, Brazilian officials are insistent that the country can soon return to something resembling business as usual.
People wait to board a train at Luz station, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.REUTERS
“We think that probably two, three months from now Brazil could be back to business,” Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said during an online event on Tuesday. “Of course, probably economic activity will take a drop but it will be much, much less than the drop we suffered last year … and much, much shorter.”
Bolsonaro has responded to growing political pressure with a dramatic shakeup of a half dozen ministries, putting loyalists in key roles ahead of what may be a tough re-election campaign next year against his political nemesis.