Brazil’s coronavirus death toll spiralled out of control in March with more than 66,500 fatalities, doubling the country’s previous monthly record, officials said.
In a sign of the devastation the virus is still causing in Brazil, daily deaths rose to a staggering 3,869 fatalities – the highest figure since the pandemic began.
Health experts say the explosion of coronavirus infections is partly driven by a local variant called P1, which can re-infect people who have had the original strain and is believed to be more contagious.
The country reported 66,573 people died of Covid-19 in March, which is more than twice as many fatalities as Brazil’s second-deadliest month of the pandemic in July last year.
In a sign of the devastation the virus is still causing in Brazil, daily deaths rose to a staggering 3,869 fatalities – the highest figure since the pandemic began
Brazil’s coronavirus death toll spiralled out of control in March with more than 66,500 fatalities, doubling the country’s previous monthly record. Pictured: Cemetery workers lower the coffin of a Covid-19 victim in Sao Paulo, Brazil last night
Cemetery workers lower a coffin in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Wednesday night as the country is ravaged by coronavirus
‘Never in Brazilian history have we seen a single event kill so many people [in one month],’ said doctor Miguel Nicolelis, former pandemic response coordinator for Brazil’s impoverished northeast.
With the southern hemisphere winter approaching and the virus spreading fast, Brazil is facing ‘a perfect storm,’ Dr Nicolelis said.
‘That’s a threat not just for Brazil but for the entire world.’
The P1 variant has spread to more than two dozen countries, including the US, UK and Japan.
As long as the pandemic continues to rage unchecked in Brazil, there is a risk that more variants could emerge in the country, researchers say.
The surge in Brazil has overwhelmed hospitals and forced doctors to make agonizing decisions over whom to give life-saving care – prioritizing those most likely to survive.
‘We’re at the worst moment of the pandemic, and indications are that April will be very bad, too,’ said epidemiologist Ethel Maciel of Espirito Santo Federal University.
‘The worst is yet to come,’ she said.
Covid-19 beds in intensive care units are more than 90 per cent full in 18 of Brazil’s 27 states, and another seven states are approaching that level.
At least 230 patients with suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19 died waiting for a bed in intensive care in Sao Paulo this month, according to TV Globo.
Several states have begun implementing protocols to decide which patients get ICU care, prioritizing those most likely to survive.
‘We’re in a very tragic situation,’ said Maciel.
The surge in Brazil has overwhelmed hospitals and forced doctors to make agonizing decisions over whom to give life-saving care – prioritizing those most likely to survive. Pictured: A man in hospital in Baaru, Sao Paulo
Earlier this month, Piaui state chief Wellington Dias described hospitals where infected patients could not even get a bed, let alone the intensive care they required.
‘We have reached the limit across Brazil; rare are the exceptions,’ Dias, who leads the governors’ Covid forum, said. ‘The chance of dying without assistance is real.’
Full hospitals are known to have worse survival rates because people can’t get the same level of attention and medical care that they would if there were fewer other patients.
The country has ranked among those with the worst Covid outbreaks in the world – it has recorded 12.7million cases and 322,000 deaths, second only to the US on both counts.
Wednesday saw more than 90,600 new coronavirus cases being recorded in the country.
President Jair Bolsonaro has been constantly dismissive of the virus and allowed it to run rampant, comparing Covid to flu and publicly spreading anti-vaccine myths, hampering the country’s pandemic response.
President Jair Bolsonaro has been constantly dismissive of the virus and allowed it to run rampant
Under pressure from allies in Congress and the business world, Bolsonaro installed his fourth health minister of the pandemic last week, replacing Eduardo Pazuello – an army general with no medical experience – with cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga.
The president sought to show he was taking the pandemic seriously, launching a crisis committee.
However, he reverted to his anti-lockdown message at the committee’s first meeting Wednesday.
‘We’re not going to solve the problem by staying at home,’ he said – contradicting his new health minister, who had just urged Brazilians to ‘respect social distancing.’
Bolsonaro argues the economic damage of lockdowns is worse than the virus itself, a stance that has left state and local governments to implement a messy patchwork of pandemic policies.
Brazil is meanwhile struggling to secure enough vaccine doses, and is far off pace to meet the health ministry’s target of immunizing the entire adult population by the end of the year.
Brazil is currently using two vaccines, Oxford/AstraZeneca’s and Chinese-developed CoronaVac, both of which require two doses.
About 8% of the population has received a first dose and 2.3% a second.
Health regulators granted emergency approval Wednesday for Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, but the 38 million doses Brazil has purchased will only start arriving in August.