Brazil is bearing the brunt of an alarming increase in Covid-19 cases, with deaths reaching more than 4,000 in a single day on Tuesday and hospitals stretched to the limit.
As the United States advances vaccines and public debates continue about reopening the economy with possible ‘vaccine passports,’ Brazil’s plight is a reminder that much of the rest of the world is still in the grip of the pandemic. .
“It is a nuclear reactor that has triggered a chain reaction and it is out of control. It is a biological Fukushima,” Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian doctor and professor at Duke University, told Reuters.
Brazil’s total death toll of 337,000, according to data from the Brazilian Ministry of Health, is surpassed only by the United States’ figure of 562,000, according to the NBC News tally.
The country is battling a highly contagious local variant amid scant social distancing efforts and a national shortage of hospital beds, according to health experts. Many blame right-wing populist President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly denied the benefit of wearing masks and questioned the efficacy of vaccines, contradicting world health advice.
Brazil has also gone through four health ministers since the pandemic began, slowing down planning efforts, with some Brazilians traveling to countries like Uruguay to get vaccinated. Authorities in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, have emptied old graves to make room amid the high death toll.
Despite the recent increase, Brazilian officials insist the country may soon return to something close to normal.
“We believe that probably in two or three months Brazil could return to activity,” Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said Tuesday during an online event. Meanwhile, leading economists urged the government in an open letter to speed up vaccines and prepare for emergency shutdowns, contradicting Bolsonaro’s claims that such shutdowns could impose too much financial hardship.
The surge in deaths around the world serves as a grim reminder that despite successful vaccination launches in the US, UK, and other countries, the global pandemic cannot be suppressed while the virus still persists. and mutations evolve.
“No government or multilateral body can tackle this threat alone,” the World Health Organization said in a statement last week. “The Covid-19 pandemic has been a stark and painful reminder that no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
Rowland Kao, professor of veterinary epidemiology and data science at the University of Edinburgh, said that while vaccines and social restrictions were working, “we are definitely not aware of this, globally speaking,” he said.
“The worst thing you can have is a substantial number of people vaccinated at the same time as a significant number of unvaccinated people with a circulating disease,” he told NBC News. A scenario that increases the chances of transmission and spread of mutated variants that “avoid vaccines,” he said, while jeopardizing travel and world trade.
Kao said it would take a “balancing act” to get countries moving again. “It’s going to be a game of if you can keep it long enough to develop power-ups into variants.” “All it takes is one person to cross a border.”
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Elsewhere, the pandemic continues to grow.
India reported a record 115,736 new cases on Wednesday, a 13-fold increase in just over two months with mounting pressure on the government to expand its vaccination campaign.
As a second wave gathers momentum, the federal government has asked states to decide on local restrictions to control the spread of the virus, but has so far refused to impose any national lockdowns after the last one in 2020 devastated its economy.
“The pandemic is not over and there is no room for complacency,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan tweeted, urging people to “get vaccinated on their turn and scrupulously follow appropriate Covid behavior.”
Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea reported its highest number of new cases in a single day in three months on Wednesday, amid a surge in infections in kindergartens, saunas, bars and churches, mostly in the metropolitan area. from Seoul. The Korea Disease Prevention and Control Agency reported 668 new cases for Tuesday, the highest level since January 8.
While in Japan, where the Olympics are due to start in just over 100 days, the western Osaka region on Wednesday canceled scheduled Olympic torch events and declared a state of medical emergency as cases skyrocketed.
“This mutant strain is almost certainly highly contagious with a high transmission speed,” Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said in televised remarks. “The medical system is in a very difficult situation.”
Arata Yamamoto contributed.