SAO PAULO, Jun 19 (Reuters) – Brazil’s death toll from COVID-19 is projected to exceed 500,000 on Saturday as experts warn that the world’s second deadliest outbreak is due to delayed vaccinations and the government’s refusal to endorse social distancing measures, could worsen.
Only 11% of Brazilians are fully vaccinated, and epidemiologists are warning that with the arrival of winter in the southern hemisphere and the spread of new variants of the coronavirus, deaths will continue to rise, even if vaccinations gain momentum.
Brazil has registered 498,499 deaths out of 17,801,462 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the worst official death toll outside the United States, according to the Department of Health as of Friday. For the past week, there has been an average of 2,000 deaths a day in Brazil.
COVID-19 continues to devastate countries in the region, with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reporting 1.1 million new cases of COVID-19 and 31,000 deaths in America last week. PAHO saw increases in six Mexican states, Belize, Guatemala, Panama and some locations in the Caribbean. Continue reading
PAHO warned that the COVID-19 situation in Colombia has reached its worst point yet as beds in intensive care units in major cities are filled.
Experts see the toll in Brazil, already the highest in Latin America, significantly higher.
“I think we’ll hit 700,000 or 800,000 deaths before we see the effects of vaccination,” said Gonzalo Vecina, former chief of Brazil’s health agency Anvisa, predicting a short-term acceleration in deaths.
“We are witnessing the arrival of these new variants and the Indian variant will put us on a loop.”
Vecina criticized far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic, including the lack of a coordinated national response and his skepticism about vaccines, bans and masking requirements, which he has relaxed.
Raphael Guimaraes, a researcher at Brazil’s Fiocruz Biomedical Center, said delays in the vaccination program in Latin America’s most populous nation meant its full effects would not be felt until September or later.
Guimaraes warned Brazil could revisit scenes from the worst of its peak from March to April, when the country recorded an average of 3,000 deaths a day.
“We are still in an extremely critical situation with very high transmission rates and bed occupancy in many places in the hospital that is still critical,” he said.
This week, the new confirmed cases in Brazil have accelerated to an average of more than 70,000 per day, the most past India in the world.
Vaccination will be crucial in defeating the virus in Brazil as the country has failed to reach consensus on social distancing and masks, said Ester Sabino, an epidemiologist at the University of Sao Paulo.
“We need to get the vaccination up really fast,” she said.
Evidence from neighboring Chile, which, like Brazil, has overwhelmingly relied on a vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech (SVA.O), suggests that mass immunization may take months to effectively reduce transmission.
Almost half of Chileans have been vaccinated, but their capital, Santiago, has just been put back into lockdown as cases hit near peak again. Continue reading
Brazil needs to vaccinate around 80 million people to meet Chile’s current per capita vaccination levels.
This requires a more consistent supply of vaccines and ingredients in Brazil, which have been spotty in recent months as imports from China were delayed after Bolsonaro angered Beijing with what was perceived to be anti-Chinese comments. Continue reading
Reporting by Eduardo Simoe’s Writing by Anthony Boadle Editing by Brad Haynes and Steve Orlofsky
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