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Brazil passes 500,000 Covid-19 deaths; second most affected country

A country of 200 million people is now the second highest for covid deaths. It is being called a “genocide” with fingers pointed at one man.

Plenty of countries have suffered through brutal waves of Covid-19.

There was Italy’s initial wave in April last year which woke the world up to the deadly power of coronavirus; the UK’s daily peak of 1200 cases in January which showed covid wasn’t quietly going away; and India’s crisis in May which dashed hopes the nation may have miraculously dodged the covid bullet.

However, there is one major nation that hasn’t so much had to battle through debilitating covid waves; but rather through a constant stream of virus cases and huge numbers of deaths for more than a year.

Brazil has now passed the grim milestone of half a million deaths linked to Covid-19. Only the US has had more.

And that’s before the more transmissible Delta variant has reached Brazil’s shores.

“In June of last year, we reached 50,000 deaths for Covid-19. In just one year we have multiplied this number 10 times. It’s very scary,” Brazilian neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis told CNN.

Some virus watchers have said Brazil could reach 800,000 deaths before its lacklustre vaccination program begins to have an effect.

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One third of all covid deaths in Brazil

On Saturday, thousands of protesters marched in Brazil’s major cities against president Jair Bolsonaro.

They blame Mr Bolsonaro for downplaying the seriousness of the virus (which he derided as a “little flu”), his questioning the usefulness of masks, mishandling the purchase of vaccines and instead focusing, at least for a time, on unproven drugs such as hydroxychloroquine.

Many are flabbergasted the government offered to host the Copa Amercia football tournament, being played now, after other nations pulled out due to the pandemic in their own countries.

A recent analysis said three out of four covid deaths in Brazil were preventable. A former president has likened the disaster to a “genocide”.

Sobering statistics

On Saturday, the country’s health ministry said 500,800 people had died due to covid during the pandemic.

Other statistics coming out of the sprawling Latin American country of 200 million are just as sobering.

Last week, one third of all the world’s covid deaths were in Brazil.

According to the Worldmeters covid tracking website, Brazil is currently recording 9.35 covid deaths per million people. In virus ravaged India, the figure is 2.71 deaths per million; in Britain – where about half the population is fully vaccinated – the rate is just 0.14. Approaching 10 per cent of all Brazilians, 17.8 million people, have caught covid. Around 72,000 Brazilian are contracting covid every day. There has barely been a day in the last year when fewer than 20,000 new cases were recorded. Since March 2021, around 60,000 Brazilians have become infected every 24 hours.

Covid related illnesses have led to around 2000 Brazilians perishing per day over the last two months.

In the major cities, 80 per cent of hospital beds in intensive care units are taken by covid patients.

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Bolsonaro blamed by many for covid catastrophe

Latin America has been hit hard by coronavirus. But in Brazil much of the blame for the sustained outbreaks is being laid at the feet of the government of the far right, populist president.

Mr Bolsonaro, a critic of lockdowns, has held scores of busy, crowded rallies with his supporters during the pandemic.

Earlier this month, he led a motorcade rally on his motorbike wearing a helmet for safety – but not a mask.

The state government of Sao Paulo, which demands masks be worn, fined him.

Brazil’s parliament is currently conducting an investigation into the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Last month it was reported that the government ignored 81 emails from vaccine manufacturer Pfizer between August and November 2020 offering to sell shots to the nation at half the usual price.

In July last year, Mr Bolsonaro boasted of taking hydroxychloroquine after he tested positive for Covid-19.

The country is now rolling out Pfizer, AstraZeneca and the Chinese Sinovac jabs.

But the vaccination drive is sluggish. Brazil has fully vaccinated only 11 per cent of its population.

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Brazils’ ongoing covid wave

Much of Brazil’s deadly ongoing surge has been caused by the Gamma virus variant which was first recorded in the remote state of Amazonas.

Deaths in Brazil did begin to fall in May when some restrictions were in place. But began to rise again when rules were loosened.

“I don’t know if it’s a third wave … it seems we never got out of the first one,” said Alexandre da Silva, a specialist in public health at the University of Sao Paulo told news agency AFP.

“It seems the pandemic has now turned into a marathon runner who is pacing his race. It’s not a sprinter who does his sprint but then loses power.”

A study by Pelotas Federal University epidemiologist Pedro Hallal, published in journal The Lancet, reported three out of four covid deaths in the country were avoidable if pandemic protocols had been followed.

The paper said four out of every five deaths may not have occurred if the government had handled covid in the same way as just an average nation.

A “genocide” on Brazil

The former president of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, has been critical of the current office holder’s attitude to the pandemic.

“500,000 deaths from a disease for which there is now a vaccine, in a country that has been a world leader in vaccination, “he tweeted.

“There is a word for that: genocide.”

The worry for Brazil now is that the slow roll out of vaccines and the lack of many meaningful restrictions will only lead to more deaths. Particularly if the Delta strain, which has fuelled covid waves elsewhere, finds a way in.

“I think we are going to reach 700,000 or 800,000 deaths before we get to see the effects of vaccination,” Gonzalo Vecina, former head of Brazilian health regulator Anvisa, told the news agency Reuters.

“We are experiencing the arrival of these new variants and the Indian variant will send us for a loop,” he said.

Brazil’s communication minister Fabio Faria scolded the anti-government protesters on social media.

“Soon you will see politicians, artists, and journalists ‘grieving’ the number of 500,000 dead. You will never see them celebrate the 86 million doses applied or the 18 million cured (from Covid-19),” he wrote on Twitter.

“Unfortunately, they cheer for the virus.”

As for Mr Bolsonaro, his Twitter account is now full of posts about the arrival of vaccines.

Yet he is seemingly silent on the half a million deaths that have occurred on his watch.

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