Brazil’s death toll from Covid-19 was set to pass 300,000 on Wednesday with the worsening pandemic now provoking a “humanitarian crisis”, according to health officials.
The leading Fiocruz research institute at the health ministry warned that increases in the transmission rate, new cases and surging demand for intensive care units are provoking a collapse in the country’s health system, resulting in more deaths and leading to a sharp spike in the mortality rate.
“This is not just a sanitary crisis but also humanitarian,” the institute warned in an emergency bulletin calling for stricter lockdown measures to be implemented in order to try to bring the virus under control.
Already home to the world's second highest death toll from the pandemic after the US, Brazil recorded more than 3,000 daily deaths for the first time on Tuesday and the seven-day average stands at 2,349 deaths, a 43 per cent increase in the last two weeks.
According to the World Health Organisation Brazil is, with more than half a million new infections in a week, the current epicentre of the global pandemic. In a briefing Carissa Etienne, the organisation's regional director for the Americas, described the situation in the country as "dire" and one that is already affecting neighbouring states.
Experts blame the escalating crisis on the lack of adherence to social distancing protocols, which is facilitating the spread of the more infectious P.1 variant that was first detected in Manaus at the end of last year.
The country's far-right president Jair Bolsonaro is coming under increasing pressure to adopt more rigid measures against the disease's spread from increasingly alarmed political and business leaders. A year into the pandemic he agreed on Wednesday to set up a committee to co-ordinate actions between his administration, congress and state governors to combat the virus.
But it was not immediately clear if he had dropped his opposition to lockdowns and curfews, which he claims do not work and are not worth the economic pain they cause. On Tuesday a supreme court judge rejected an attempt by the president to revoke new restrictions in two states and the capital Brasília.
Many governors see lockdowns as the only means of containing the virus because the administration’s vaccination programme has got off to such a stuttering start, with just six per cent of a population of 211 million people having received at least one dose. This week the health ministry was forced to reduce for the sixth time the number of vaccines it expects to distribute next month to 47 million doses, 10 million fewer than its previous projection.
After months during which he worked to undermine confidence in vaccines, Mr Bolsonaro attempted in a national television broadcast on Tuesday night to portray himself and his administration as long-time proponents of vaccinations. His address was widely criticised by commentators as deceitful and greeted by the banging of pots and pans in protests in cities across the country.