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Covid-19 abroad: Brazil setting the wrong kind of records amid deadly second wave

A year after its president Jair Bolsonaro wrote Covid-19 off as ‘just a little flu’, Brazil is logging record daily death figures while its healthcare system faces collapse. Maria Lombardini in Rio de Janeiro tells Colm McGuirk about the last year
Photo by Matheus Bertelli via Pexels.com

Brazil is in the grip of a devastating second wave of the coronavirus, that claimed around 66,500 lives in March. 

Watch Colm McGuirk talk to Maria Lombardini about Covid-19 in Brazil

With the native, more transmissible P1 strain pervasive, Brazil’s health system is at breaking point, with many intensive care units across the country unable to cope with patient numbers.

Brazil, the sixth-most-populated country in the world with around 211 million people, is now second only to the USA in total Covid-19 fatalities.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s response to the pandemic has come under much fire. The ex-army captain, who has reminisced fondly about Brazil’s violently oppressive military dictatorship of 1964-85, was elected in 2018 on a promise of law and order in a country dogged by crime – in spite of a catalogue of misogynistic, racist and homophobic public utterances.

Bolsonaro has left it to state and city governments in Brazil to implement lockdowns, and refused to do so at a national level. Instead, he has downplayed the severity of the virus, attended large gatherings, and promoted and purchased unproven treatments for Covid-19. 

The president won support last year after signing off on generous cash handouts that left many of Brazil’s most impoverished better off than before the pandemic, but the trauma of this second wave has seen his approval rating sink to an all-time low in recent weeks.

In keeping with global patterns, a recently published study by The Lancet concluded that “existing socioeconomic inequalities [in Brazil], rather than age, health status, and other risk factors for COVID-19, have affected the course of the epidemic, with a disproportionate adverse burden on states and municipalities with high socioeconomic vulnerability.”

As mutating variants continue to ravage and vaccination programmes falter, Brazil’s crisis looks set to rage on.

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