Brazil passes 600,000 coronavirus deaths
Brazil became the second country in the world to pass 600,000 coronavirus deaths on Friday, a dark milestone for a government that has been sharply criticized for mismanaging the outbreak.
President Jair Bolsonaro has drawn the ire of health experts for his failure to implement measures to contain the pandemic. He has railed against lockdowns, aired skepticism about vaccines and regularly refuses to wear a mask in public.
The Health Ministry registered 615 new COVID-19 deaths on Friday, taking the total to 600,425 since the pandemic began.
But despite Friday's tragic mark, there are now signs that infections in Brazil are finally ebbing, as the country ramps up vaccinations after a slow start. More than 70 per cent of Brazilians have received a first dose, compared to 65 per cent in the United States, which passed 600,000 deaths in June.
Bars in Sao Paulo are full again for evening happy hours, lawmakers in the capital of Brasilia have nearly done away with video sessions via Zoom, and Rio de Janeiro’s beaches are packed. Calls for strict social distancing seem but a memory.
Relief in both COVID-19 cases and deaths have been particularly welcome given experts’ warnings that the delta variant would produce another wave of destruction in the country with the second-most victims. So far, that hasn’t materialised.
Health experts speculate the early devastating effects in Brazil of the Gamma variant, also called P1, may have tempered the course of the Delta variant, which caused cases elsewhere to spike significantly.
"The enormous cost of lives we had with Gamma resulted in a portion of the population with partial immunity when Delta spread," said virologist Fernando Spilki of Feevale University in the state of Rio Grande do Sul.
The country’s average daily death toll has hovered around 500 for a month, down sharply from more than 3,000 in April. Almost 45% of the population is fully vaccinated, and a booster shot is being administered to the elderly. A greater percentage of Brazilians are at least partially vaccinated compared to Americans or Germans, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.