Brazil became the second country to record 400,000 COVID-19 deaths after the US on Thursday, and experts warned the daily toll could stay high for several months due to slow vaccinations and the relaxation of social restrictions.
Brazil recorded 3,001 new COVID-19 deaths on Thursday. This corresponds to a total of 401,186 deaths since the pandemic began, the Ministry of Health said.
A brutal spike in coronavirus infections this year has pushed hospitals across the country to the limit of capacity, causing 100,000 deaths in just over a month.
Brazil’s COVID-19 deaths have fallen slightly from a high of more than 4,000 in a single day in early April, prompting many local governments to ease the lockdown.
However, infectious disease experts warned that this easing will increase deaths for months as vaccines alone cannot be counted on to contain the virus. Two experts believe the number of deaths will continue to exceed 2,000 a day.
“Brazil will repeat the same mistake it made last year,” said epidemiologist Pedro Hallal, who led a national study on COVID-19.
“What is Brazil going to do now? Go back to easing restrictions and that will stabilize us at 2,000 deaths a day, as if 2,000 deaths from a single illness were normal in a day,” he said.
India recently outperformed Brazil in average daily deaths, despite Brazil taking a higher cumulative toll despite a population one-sixth the size of India.
The surge in infections is caused by the P.1 variant of coronavirus discovered in Brazil, which is believed to be 2.5 times more contagious than the original version.
The introduction of the vaccine, where only about 13% of people have received a shot so far, was not enough to contain the spread without social restrictions, said Diego Xavier, a researcher at Fiocruz State Health Institute.
He also predicted that more than 2,000 deaths a day would become the norm without vaccinations much speeded up, as has been seen in countries like the United States.
The experts blamed the failure of the government – from President Jair Bolsonaro to many governors and mayors – to cause the death toll to launch a sufficiently strong response to the pandemic.
“We hit that 400,000 death toll mainly due to the incompetence of the government under the presidential leadership,” said Jamal Suleiman, a doctor at the Emilio Ribas Infectology Institute.
Bolsonaro downplayed the severity of the virus from the start, defied strict lockdown measures, did not strongly advocate masks and only recently adopted vaccines.
The vaccination campaign with the Ministry of Health stalled over the weekend, stating that from January to April 30% fewer vaccines were received than expected.
Many communities are out of vaccines and unable to deliver second shots as planned, while others have seen long lines as many people fear supplies will not last.
Brazil’s first game of Pfizer on Thursday (PFE.N) Vaccines came into the country. Initial delivery was just over 1 million cans, with the US company expected to deliver 100 million shots by the end of the third quarter.
Bolsonaro insists the country must go back to normal, arguing that the economic hardship for Brazilians is as dire as the pandemic itself.
The Senate set up a special committee this week to investigate possible wrongdoing in the government’s pandemic response and promises to call on current and former top officials in Bolsonaro’s government to testify.