Brazil has recorded more than 330,000 deaths from Covid, just behind the United States, and experts warn the current spike in cases may not peak for several weeks.
The rapid spread of a variant of the coronavirus first discovered in Brazil has been of major concern around the world.
President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently downplayed the severity of the virus, but he is now focusing on the nationwide vaccination campaign which critics say came far too late.
What did Bolsonaro say about Covid?
The president was very skeptical about the need to take decisive action to fight the pandemic:
he called Covid “just a little flu”
rejected a national lockdown, saying such measures only impoverished the poor
called state governors and mayors who imposed “tyrants”
casts doubts on the effectiveness and safety of jabs and says he would not get vaccinated
joked Pfizer jab can “turn people into crocodiles”
rejected opportunities to purchase millions of doses of vaccine
told people to “stop whining” about the situation
He continues to oppose lockdowns, but his government has now stepped up efforts to immunize the country’s population of over 200 million people.
So how does Brazil’s track record compare to that of the rest of Latin America and the world?
One in four deaths worldwide
Brazil has by far the highest death toll in Latin America.
In recent weeks, it has accounted for around one in four deaths from Covid worldwide.
It lags behind Peru and Mexico as a proportion of the total population, but daily deaths are rising rapidly in Brazil.
Twice as many people died in March than in any other month of the pandemic, and the upward trend has continued as a more transmissible variant leads to infections.
A recent estimate from the University of Washington predicted that Brazil could see a total of more than 500,000 deaths by July.
Regional leaders say mixed messages and resistance to lockdowns at the national level have made local restrictions more difficult to enforce.
Critical care beds in hospitals in many states across the country are full or nearly full.
Dr Miguel Nicolelis, Brazilian professor of neuroscience at Duke University, told the BBC: “The country is collapsing into a national hospital – this is the first time in history that the public health is collapsing.
“If we can get the vaccine in large quantities, we could at least alleviate the situation.”
Brazil has a solid reputation for conducting immunization campaigns and, compared to many other countries in Latin America, has a well-established health care infrastructure.
But its coronavirus vaccination efforts have lagged behind those of Chile and Uruguay, which lead the rankings in the region.
Public confidence in vaccines in Brazil is among the highest in the world, but supply has been slow.
Brazilian microbiologist Natalia Pasternak says: “We have a great vaccination program, one of the best in the world. If we have enough doses, we know what to do, we have the expertise and the structure. We just need to vaccines. “
Only about half of the target of 46 million doses of vaccine had been delivered by the end of March.
Brazil has now ordered enough doses to immunize its entire population – but critics say those deals came far too late, as other large countries with similar purchasing power are now leading the queue. .
In August, the Brazilian government turned down an offer from Pfizer to buy up to 70 million doses of its vaccine.
It recently ordered 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but the bulk of those will not arrive until the second half of the year.
The government has also ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine produced by Chinese company Sinovac, although President Bolsonaro has criticized it in the past.
In November, he said stopping vaccine trials in Brazil was “another victory for Jair Bolsonaro”.
Brazil domestically produces the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which the government says will eventually deliver millions of doses – but the lack of active ingredients needed to make the vaccine means initial production in Brazilian labs has been limited .
The dangers posed by the Brazilian variants
Brazilian public health institute Fiocruz said it had detected 92 variants of the coronavirus in the country.
In particular, the P.1 variant has become a source of concern as it is considered to be much more contagious than the original strain and has spread throughout Latin America and the world.
Scientists believe that current vaccines should still work against the Brazilian variant, although perhaps not as well, and new variants may emerge in the future that are different again.
Dr Nicolelis says: “Brazil is not only the epicenter of the pandemic in the world, it is a threat to the overall efforts of the international community to control the pandemic. We are making new variants every week. . “
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