Brazil on track to suffer most deaths from Covid in the world as pandemic rages

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro popularity has dropped due to the handling of the pandemic. Credit: AP

Brazil is on track to suffer from the most Covid-19 deaths out of any nation in the world as the pandemic spirals out of control in the South American country while the vaccine rollout has barely started.

The country reported 3,780 deaths from Covid-19 on Tuesday, its highest so far and looks certain to breach 4,000 per day in the coming weeks.

Daily cases reached 100,000 for the first time on March 25 and it is likely many more went unreported.

Brazil currently accounts for one-quarter of the entire world’s daily Covid-19 deaths, far more than any other single nation, and health experts are warning that the nation is on the verge of even greater calamity.

A report published recently found between January 1 and March 13 saw an increase in coronavirus infection of more than 500% among people aged between 30 to 39, while the rest of the country saw just over a 300% increase.

The report by Brazil's Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) said: "The country is in a situation of collapse of the health system. At the same time, the pandemic has been gaining new characteristics affecting younger age groups: 30 to 39 years, 40 to 49 years and 50 to 59 years,"

A demonstrator places a Brazil national flag on a mattress symbolising Covid-19 victims. Credit: AP

While the first wave of the pandemic in the country hit the elderly hardest, the number of deaths are now rising sharply among younger age groups.

Although not definitively confirmed, the increase is being linked to the growth of the more infectious P1 variant of Covid-19 which first originated in Brazil.

Fiocruz called for a 14-day lockdown to reduce transmission by 40% on Tuesday.

The nation has fully vaccinated less than 2% of its citizens, which has been seen as a national embarrassment for a country that has had a good record of rolling out vaccines in the past.

One of the reasons the country has struggled so much with the pandemic due to resistance from the central government, led by President Jair Bolsanaro, over implementing lockdowns.

The president has argued lockdowns infringe on a person's right to earn a living and the economic cost is too high.

Due to the reluctance to lockdown nationally regional leaders have moved to implement their own rules, but this had led to confusing situations as people move between borders with repeated cycles of opening and closing.

Many hospitals in Brazil are at breaking point. Credit: AP

Miguel Nicolelis, professor of Neurobiology at Duke University who advised several Brazilian governors and mayors on pandemic control, believes the total death toll reaching 500,000 by July and exceeding that of the US by the end of 2021“We have surpassed levels never imagined for a country with a public health care system, a history of efficient immunization campaigns and health workers who are second to none in the world,” Nicolelis said. “The next stage is the health system collapse.”

The system is already struggling, with almost all states’ intensive care units near or at capacity.

Dr. José Antônio Curiati, a supervisor at Sao Paulo’s Hospital das Clinicas, the biggest hospital complex in Latin America, said its beds are full, but patients keep arriving. Natalia Pasternak, a microbiologist based in Brazil said: “We need coordinated action, and that’s probably not going to happen because the federal government has no real interest in pursuing preventative actions.”

She added regional leaders "are trying to implement preventative measures, but separately and in their own ways. This isn’t the best approach, but it’s better than nothing.”

Minas Gerais, Brazil’s second most populous state, has closed nonessential shops. Espirito Santo state will enter lockdown Sunday.

Supporters of the president have been resisting lockdowns Credit: AP

Brazil’s two biggest cities, Rio and Sao Paulo, have imposed extensive restrictions on nonessential activities.

Regional governments are also worried about compliance to the rules as many members of the public have listened to Mr Bolsonaro's criticisms and are protesting against restrictions.

On top of the mishandling of the pandemic, the president is also facing a significant political crisis at home.

The defence minister resigned on Monday and this was followed by the leaders of the three branches of Brazil's military quitting on Tuesday after Mr Bolsonaro tried to secure more of a direct role in the management of the countries armed forces.

The unprecedented move by the military leaders came as Mr Bolsonaro was already attempting a cabinet shakeup to sure up support amid criticism of his handling of the pandemic.