Brazil on Saturday became the second country in the world after the United States to exceed the threshold of 500,000 deaths from Covid-19, with a recent increase in daily deaths which confirms the imminence of a third wave.
The latest report from the Ministry of Health, underestimated according to many epidemiologists, reports 500,800 deaths, including 2,301 recorded in the last 24 hours.
This week, the weekly average of daily deaths rose above 2,000 for the first time since May 10.
The country of 212 million inhabitants also has 82,288 new contaminations on Saturday alone, bringing the total to 17,883,750.
“The third wave is arriving but the vaccination, which could make the difference, is still too slow and the authorities do not seem to want to take new restrictive measures”, explains to AFP Ethel Maciel, epidemiologist of the University of Espirito Santo (Ufes).
In the country’s major cities, life seems to be almost back to normal, with restaurants, bars and shops open and large numbers of unmasked people on the streets.
The situation is however critical in 19 of the 27 Brazilian states, with more than 80% occupancy of intensive care beds, and even 90% in eight of them.
– “Marathon” –
The second wave – from January to April – was particularly deadly, the number of deaths having increased exponentially with the circulation of the Gamma variant, which appeared in Manaus in the Amazon (north).
The number of daily deaths then began to decline slightly from May, thanks to the closure of businesses.
But epidemiologists believe that the reopening took place much too early, while the number of deaths had stabilized on a still high plateau: around 2,000 per day.
Contrary to what has been observed in Europe, there has been no real lull between the waves in Brazil.
“We have the impression that we are never really out of the first wave. It seems that the pandemic in Brazil behaves like a marathon runner and not like a sprinter who accelerates suddenly and loses speed immediately afterwards”, estimates Alexandre da Silva, public health specialist and doctor from the University of Sao Paulo (USP).
Several large deliveries of vaccines have recently arrived in Brazil, in particular from Pfizer, and some cities have thus been able to give a boost to their immunization campaigns, in particular Rio and Sao Paulo, the most populous in the country.
But only 29% of the population has received at least one dose and 11.36% is fully vaccinated.
The vaccination campaign began in mid-January with vaccines from AstraZeneca and the Chinese Coronavac.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been very critical of vaccines, has promised to immunize the entire population by the end of the year, a goal that is difficult to achieve according to specialists.
“500,000 died from a disease for which there is already a vaccine, in a country which was a world reference for vaccination. It has a name and it is genocide. My solidarity with the Brazilian people”, tweeted Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, ex-left-wing president (2003-2010) and potential candidate for the next election.
– Copa Covid –
It is in this most worrying context that Brazil has been hosting the football Copa America since Sunday, which brings together world stars such as Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
The matches take place behind closed doors but Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for welcoming the tournament with open arms in the midst of a pandemic, after the withdrawals of Colombia and Argentina.
Anti-Bolsonaro protests took place on Saturday in many cities of Brazil with slogans like “Dehors Bolsonaro”, “Government of hunger and unemployment”, “Vaccine now” or “Vaccine in the arm and food in the plate”.
The “posture” of Mr. Bolsonaro “on the Covid and his negationism are absurd. He is already out of reality, out of common sense, that cannot be explained, it is so surreal”, noted Robert Almeida, a 50-year-old photographer who participated in the demonstration in Rio de Janeiro.
“We could have avoided thousands of deaths if the management of the health crisis had been different, with real national coordination,” laments epidemiologist Ethel Maciel who denounces an “ideological battle” fueled by President Bolsonaro’s anti-confinement speech.
The latter sparked an uproar last week by announcing that he was going to ask the Ministry of Health to lift the obligation to wear a mask outdoors. He was fined several times for participating in rallies with his face uncovered.
A potentially explosive Senate commission of inquiry has been looking for a month and a half into the chaotic management of the health crisis.