Brazil’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic exceeded 300,000 on Wednesday, as a deadly wave that has driven hospitals to the brink made it the second country after the United States to pass the grim milestone.
A total of 300,685 people in Brazil have now died from Covid-19, the health ministry said, as the country struggled to deal with an explosion of cases accused of a local variant of the virus believed to be more contagious.
Brazil currently has by far the highest number of deaths per day in the pandemic. It has more than tripled since the beginning of the year to an average of 2,273 for the past week.
President Jair Bolsonaro previously announced that he was launching a crisis committee to deal with the pandemic, a change of course amid growing pressure over a situation he has repeatedly minimized.
The far-right president promised that no one would “politicize” the pandemic, following a meeting with the heads of both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court of the Supreme Court, the central bank governor, most of his cabinet and six of Brazil’s 27 governors.
“The prevailing sentiment was solidarity and the commitment to minimize the effects of the pandemic,” Bolsonaro said at the presidential palace.
“Life comes first.”
He said the group had agreed to set up a coordination council with Brazil’s 27 governors, led by Senate Spokesman Rodrigo Pacheco.
He himself will convene a crisis committee that will meet every week, he said.
>> Covid-19: Brazil on the brink
The announcements seemed to do little to tame criticism of Bolsonaro, who has failed expert advice on locking and face masks, pushed a drug regime he calls the “early treatment” package that researchers say does not work and spoke out against vaccines.
The newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo accused the president of “lying” when he said that his government was constantly working to fight the virus.
“For twelve months, the Bolsonaro minimized the pandemic, promoted the masses, spoke out against worm use, and stopped calls to secure vaccines,” it said.
Bolsonaro has softened his stance on vaccines under pressure, saying Wednesday’s meeting “unanimously agreed” on the need for mass vaccination.
However, he apparently could not resist his usual contact for “early treatment” with hydroxychloroquine and other drugs that were discarded as ineffective against Covid-19 in a number of studies.
“We also talked about the possibility of an early treatment regimen,” he said.
“It falls under the Ministry of Health, which respects the right and obligation of all doctors to treat their patients, even with prescription drug prescriptions.”
The “terrible” situation
His new health minister – his fourth of the pandemics – later said in his first press conference that he had set up a special secretariat within the ministry to fight the pandemic.
The minister, cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga, also promised to triple the number of people vaccinated to one million a day, “in the short term.”
Brazil, a vast country of 212 million people, has now administered at least one dose of vaccine to about six percent of the population, but is far from reaching its goal of vaccinating all adults by the end of the year.
The new wave of Covid-19 has driven many hospitals to the breaking point, with intensive care beds and oxygen supply at critically low levels.
The Pan American health organization warned on Tuesday that the situation in Brazil was “serious” and threatened the rest of the region.
“The virus continues to grow dangerously across Brazil,” said PAHO chief Carissa Etienne in Washington.
“Cases and deaths are on the rise, and ICU bedding is very high in many states.”