Third pandemic wave arrives as Brazil surpasses 500,000 deaths

Published June 21, 2021
A WOMAN stands amidst red flowers placed by an NGO on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach to remember Brazil’s Covid victims.—Reuters
A WOMAN stands amidst red flowers placed by an NGO on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach to remember Brazil’s Covid victims.—Reuters

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil on Saturday became the second country after the United States to surpass 500,000 Covid-19 deaths as the South American giant grapples with a third wave of the pandemic.

“500,000 lives lost due to the pandemic that affects our Brazil and the world,” Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga tweeted.

The Health Ministry reported 500,800 deaths, including 2,301 in the last 24 hours, a toll that many experts say underestimate the real toll from the health crisis.

This week the average number of daily deaths surpassed 2,000 for the first time since May 10.

“The third wave is arriving, there’s already in a change in the case and death curves,” Ethel Maciel, an epidemiologist from Espirito Santo University, said.

“Our vaccination (programme), which could make a difference, is slow and there are no signs of restrictive measures, quite the contrary.” In large cities, life seems almost back to normal with restaurants, bars and shops open and many people in the streets not wearing face masks.

And yet the situation is critical in 19 of Brazil’s 27 states with more than 80 percent occupancy of intensive care beds — in nine of those states it’s over 90 percent.

The “second wave,” from January to April this year, was particularly deadly.

The number of deaths increased exponentially with the arrival of the Gamma virus variant that originated in Manaus, in the north of Brazil.

It gradually began to fall in May thanks in part to the closure of businesses when the pandemic was at its worst.

But many epidemiologists believe lockdown restrictions were lifted too soon at a time when daily deaths were still up around the 2,000 mark.

Contrary to what has been seen in Europe, there’s been no real trough between the different waves in Brazil.

“I don’t know if it’s a third wave ... it seems we never got out of the first one,” said Alexandre da Silva, a specialist in public health at the University of Sao Paulo.

“It seems the pandemic has now turned into a marathon runner who is pacing his race. It’s not a sprinter who does his sprint but then loses power.” Brazil has recently received several batches of vaccines, including from US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, but the country has only managed to fully vaccinate 11 percent of the population, with 29 percent receiving one dose.

The vaccination drive began late in mid-January using the AstraZeneca and Coronavac jabs.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who previously hit out at vaccines, has promised to immunize the entire population by the end of the year — something specialists consider unlikely.

Bolsonaro has been criticised for downplaying the pandemic from the outset, opposing lockdown measures and plugging unproven medical treatments for Covid, and on Saturday thousands of Brazilians again took to the streets in protest against him.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2021

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