| 16 April 2024, Tuesday |

‘A biological Fukushima’: Brazil COVID-19 fatalities to pass worst of U.S. wave

Brazil’s brutal spike in COVID-19 fatalities will soon surpass the worst of a record January wave in the United States, as expected by scientists, with deaths climbing for the first time above 4,000 in a day on Tuesday as the outbreak overruns hospitals.

Brazil’s overall death toll trails only the U.S. outbreak, with almost 337,000 killed, according to a Health Ministry tally, compared with over 555,000 dead in the United States.

But with Brazil’s healthcare system at the breaking point, the country could exceed total U.S. fatalities, despite having a population two-thirds that of the United States, two experts told Reuters.

“It’s a nuclear reactor that has set off a chain reaction and is out of control. It’s a biological Fukushima,” said Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian doctor and professor at Duke University, who is closely tracking the virus.

On Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported another 4,195 coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours, well above the country’s prior single-day record. Brazil has set daily death records every week since late February, as a more infectious local variant and meager social distancing efforts fuel an uncontrolled outbreak.

With mass inoculations curtailing the U.S. outbreak, Brazil has become the epicenter of the pandemic, contributing about 1 in 4 deaths per day globally, according to Reuters.

President Jair Bolsonaro has pushed back against mask-wearing and lockdowns that public health experts consider the best way to reduce the likelihood of virus transmission.

The country dragged its feet last year as the world raced to secure vaccines, slowing the launch of a national immunization program.

Despite the recent surge, Brazilian officials are insistent that the country can soon return to something resembling business as usual.

“We think that probably two, three months from now Brazil could be back to business,” Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said during an online event on Tuesday. “Of course, probably economic activity will take a drop but it will be much, much less than the drop we suffered last year … and much, much shorter.”

Bolsonaro has responded to growing political pressure with a dramatic shakeup of a half dozen ministries, putting loyalists in key roles ahead of what may be a tough re-election campaign next year against his political nemesis.

While the president has shifted his tone on immunizations, touting vaccines he had recently disdained, the far-right former army captain continues to battle in the courts against state and municipal restrictions on economic activity.

With weak measures failing to combat contagion, Brazil’s COVID-19 cases and fatalities are accumulating faster than ever.

Nicolelis and Christovam Barcellos, a researcher at Brazilian medical institute Fiocruz, are separately forecasting that Brazil could surpass the U.S. in both overall deaths and the record for average fatalities per day.

As soon as next week, Brazil may break the record U.S. seven-day average for coronavirus deaths, according to a model by the influential Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. The U.S. average for daily deaths peaked at 3,285 in January.

The IHME forecast does not currently extend beyond July 1, when it projects Brazil could reach 563,000 fatalities, compared with 609,000 total U.S. deaths expected by then.

  • Reuters