RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Brazil registered a record 100,158 new cases of coronavirus in 24 hours on Thursday, the Health Ministry said, underscoring the scale of a snowball outbreak that is turning into a major political crisis for the President Jair Bolsonaro.
The record number of cases, along with 2,777 more deaths from COVID-19, comes a day after Brazil surpassed 300,000 deaths from the pandemic, the worst death toll in the world after the United States.
The outbreak in Brazil has set weekly records due to an irregular launch of the vaccine, a lack of national coordination and a new infectious variant. Critics, including high-level lawmakers with ties to the president, increasingly blame Bolsonaro for his handling of the pandemic. He has come under fire for his efforts to block closures, disparage masks and cast doubt on vaccines.
Bolsonaro also faces growing calls to replace Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo due to failures in the country’s response to COVID-19. Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco said on Thursday that Brazil’s foreign policy must improve, adding that it is up to Bolsonaro to decide whether to replace Araujo.
A close ideological ally of the president, Araujo has faced criticism for his criticism of the vaccine superpower China and struggles to obtain doses from American reserves.
Sources close to the president told Reuters that Bolsonaro would rather not lose Araujo, an avowed admirer of former US President Donald Trump, who has struggled to advance in new President Joe Biden’s White House. But the sources, who asked not to be named, said Araujo did not have a firm foundation. One said the president is likely to finally get rid of Araujo.
Bolsonaro, who had questioned the “rush” to buy vaccines last year, has vowed to step up the country’s vaccination campaign, targeting 1 million daily doses, up from around 350,000 a day last week.
On Thursday, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes suggested that the private sector could help speed up immunizations by buying supplies and donating them to the government. It was unclear whether the idea was viable in such a narrow global market for vaccines.
Report by Pedro Fonseca; Written by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Brad Haynes and Leslie Adler