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Covid-19: Brazil fears 600,000 deaths by June-end

Virendra Pandit 

New Delhi: With the second wave of global pandemic relentlessly surging across the planet, Brazil, which recorded over 4,200 Covid-related deaths in 24 hours for the first time on Tuesday, is now bracing to a total of 600,000 deaths by the end of June.

Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, who until recently was the co-ordinator of the pandemic response team in north-eastern Brazil, remarked that it was the largest human tragedy in Brazilian history.

“We may get to 500,000 deaths by 1 July, that’s the latest estimate,” he said. “But the University of Washington released an estimate on Friday suggesting that if the rate of transmission goes up by about 10 percent, we could get to 600,000 deaths.”

The Brazil variant has also been linked to a spike in infections and deaths in several South American countries.

With a death toll of 337,364 and 13,106,058 positive cases so far, Brazil stands second only to the USA whose corresponding numbers on Tuesday were 570,260 and 31,560,438, respectively. India is the third most affected country with 166,208 deaths and 12,801,785 infections, and, for the first time on Tuesday, it recorded more than 115,000 infections on a single day. Overall, the world has reported 2,887,247 deaths and 133,060,663 positive cases since the pandemic unfolded in 2020.

In Brazil, hospitals are overcrowded, with people dying while waiting for treatment in some cities, and the overstretched health system is on the brink of collapse in many areas, media reported.

Despite this national calamity, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro continued to oppose any lockdown measures to curb the outbreak. People, he said recently, have no choice as they will die either of hunger or of the epidemic.

The damage to the economy would be worse than the effects of the virus itself, he argued, as he tried to revert some of the restrictions imposed by local authorities in the courts.

Speaking to supporters on Tuesday, he criticized quarantine measures and even claimed that they were linked to obesity and depression.

To date, Brazil has recorded more than 13 million cases of coronavirus, according to the health ministry. Nearly 66,570 people died with Covid-19 in March alone, more than double the previous monthly record.

In most states, patients with Covid-19 infections have occupied more than 90% of intensive care unit beds, Fiocruz said.

Several states have complained of short supplies of oxygen and sedative. Despite the critical situation, however, some cities and states have eased restrictions like limiting the movement of people.

The popularity of Bolsonaro, the far-right president, has plummeted amid heavy criticism of his handling of the crisis. He played down the virus and raised doubts about vaccines while defending unproven drugs as treatment. Then he tried to wriggle out by shifting the tone on immunizations recently, pledging to make 2021 the year of vaccinations.

Reports said his government was slow in negotiating supplies. Only around 8% of the population has been given at least one dose.

Epidemiologist Ethel Maciel said the only way to slow the extremely fast spread of the virus is an effective lockdown for at least 20 days.

Fiocruz says it has detected 92 variants of coronavirus in the country, including the P.1, or Brazil variant, which is more contagious. It is thought to have emerged in Amazonas state in November 2020, spreading quickly in the state capital Manaus, where it accounted for 73% of cases by January 2021.

In the absence of lockdowns, many local authorities are reopening parts of the economy despite lingering chaos in overcrowded hospitals and a collapsed health system in several parts of the country.

Local authorities nationwide argue that numbers of cases and hospitalizations are trending downward after a week of a partial shutdown.

Less than 3% of Brazil’s 210 million people have received both doses of coronavirus vaccines, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.

Meanwhile, judges of Brazil’s Supreme Court started a tug of war about the reopening of religious buildings, which were closed by local authorities despite a federal government decision to label them as part of essential services. Some churches welcomed their faithful on Easter Sunday, but others were stopped by mayors and governors.