Coronavirus: Brazil’s daily death toll tops 2,000 spurred by contagious variant

World wrap: Cases of Covid-19 rising considerably in central and eastern Europe

The daily Covid-19 death toll in Brazil has topped 2,000 for the first time amid a growing second wave of coronavirus and as health systems collapse in several mid-sized cities.

The Brazilian health ministry said 2,286 deaths were registered in the last 24 hours late on Wednesday, with the previous record having been set the previous day with 1,954 deaths.

The grim figure put Brazil’s total death toll at more than 270,000.

Earlier Wednesday, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who has long downplayed the risks of the virus, wore a mask for the first time in months during an event at the presidential palace in capital Brasilia.


He also sanctioned a bill that makes the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines easier.

Less than 5 per cent of Brazilians have been vaccinated against the disease.

New coronavirus infections tallied 79,876 to bring the total in the year-long pandemic to more than 11.2 million, according to the Health Ministry.

The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) said on Wednesday that infection rates in Brazil are worrying, spurred by a new and more contagious variant known as P1, and called for much stricter public health measures.

"We are concerned about the situation in Brazil. It provides a sober reminder of the threat of resurgence: areas hit hard by the virus in the past are still vulnerable to infection today," PAHO director Carissa Etienne said in a briefing.

With a sluggish vaccination pace, Brazil has seen a sharp spike in cases and deaths.

The government of the state of Sao Paulo confirmed in a news conference on Wednesday a Reuters report saying the Covid-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd is effective against the P1 variant.

On Monday president Jair Bolsonaro, who has played down the gravity of the novel coronavirus and questioned the "rush" for vaccines, took part personally in a video call with executives at Pfizer, reaching a spoken agreement to buy its vaccine.


Cases of Covid-19 are rising considerably in central and eastern Europe, as parts of Estonia ran out of hospital beds this week.

The Estonian government has banned groups larger than two people, closed non-essential shops and told restaurants to switch to takeaways as part of a drive to contain a surge in Covid-19 infections.

Primary school will have to switch to online education, which was mandated to older students earlier this month in the Baltic nation of 1.3 million battles the second highest per capita rate of infections in the European Union after the Czech Republic.

The government said it had recorded 1,336 Covid-19 cases over the previous 14 days per 100,000 people, more than twice the level seen a month ago and a fifth more than last week, when it told restaurants and many shops to close during weekend to control the surge.

The new restrictions, which come into effect from Thursday, will stay until April 11th.

"The fresh data shows that the more aggressive British variant of the coronavirus is spreading more seriously in Estonia than previously predicted. Our medical system is in a crisis," said prime minister Kaja Kallas.

Hong Kong

A coronavirus outbreak at a Hong Kong gym has spread to international schools and other fitness centers, while positive cases also appeared in the banking community just as the city was emerging from a prolonged round of social restrictions and venue closures.

The flareup is linked to a 27-year-old trainer from Ursus Fitness, a gym in Hong Kong Island's Sai Ying Pun neighborhood popular with expatriates. The gym said five of its staff also tested positive for Covid-19, as well as a client.

Hundreds of close contacts have been sent to mandatory quarantine in government facilities, including gym members, students and school teachers. Employees at some banks were advised to work from home.

At least three schools have been closed, just weeks after the government allowed in-person teaching to resume for the first time since late November.

Kennedy School, which belongs to the English Schools Foundation group of international schools, said in an email to parents Thursday that it would close its campus due to a positive Covid case connected to Ursus Fitness. Kellett School and the French International School also said they closed campuses due to positive cases, but didn't state whether they were linked to the gym.

A BNP Paribas SA spokeswoman said one of the bank’s Hong Kong employees tested positive and that staffers who sat near the person will work from home for 14 days.

The new cluster is another blow to a city that has endured multiple waves of the virus. Venues ranging from gyms to beauty parlors were only allowed to reopen on February 18th, after being closed for over two months. Others, including bars and beaches, remain closed.

With new daily cases in the low double-digits or less for weeks, banks and other financial companies had gradually eased work-from-home policies as social-distancing rules were relaxed. Some increased the percentage of employees allowed back in offices, while others used a split-team approach.

The number of infections in Hong Kong is low, at 11,128 in total, but the city's quarantine measures are among the strictest in the world. Close contacts of positive cases are required to enter centralised surveillance facilities for two weeks, while residents entering from outside of China must spend 21 days in designated hotels.

Meanwhile, fewer residents are getting Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s coronavirus vaccine following reports of side effects. The number of people who received their scheduled shots at community vaccination centers dropped to 72 per cent on Wednesday from more than 90 per cent last week. – Agencies