Brazil Covid deaths: why are coronavirus cases so high - and how much of the population has had the vaccine?

President Jair Bolsonaro refuses to impose Covid restrictions - and last month told crowds in Rio de Janeiro to ‘stop whining’

Jair Bolsonaro has opted for an anti-lockdown rhetoric throughout the pandemic (Getty Images)
Jair Bolsonaro has opted for an anti-lockdown rhetoric throughout the pandemic (Getty Images)

Few countries have suffered as much as Brazil during the Covid-19 pandemic, the South American country second only to the United States in terms of coronavirus related deaths.

While governments in Europe and North America look to ease their way out of what they hope will be a final lockdown Brazil’s pandemic continues to reach dreadful new peaks with 4,000 deaths recorded on April 6.

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Over a year on from the beginning of the pandemic the country’s health system is on the brink of collapse in parts of the country while conservative leader Jair Bolsonaro continues to reject lockdowns for fear of damaging the economy.

The situation in Brazil has potentially far-reaching effects for the rest of the world with fears that the country could be a breeding ground for resistant and infectious forms of the coronavirus.

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What is the situation in Brazil?

Brazil's health ministry on Tuesday said 4,195 deaths were counted in the previous 24 hours, with the nation's pandemic toll quickly approaching 340,000, the second highest in the world.

Health institute Fiocruz states that Intensive care units are 90% occupied by Covid-19 patients in most states, with shortages of oxygen and sedatives an issue in some areas.

Despite hospitals being on the brink president Jair Bolsonaro continues to argue for the reopening of the country, arguing that the number of deaths and cases is trending downwards and the high figures recorded this week were due to the Easter break.

Miguel Lago, executive director of Brazil's Institute for Health Policy Studies, which advises public health officials, said reopening is a mistake that he fears will bring even higher death numbers, though he thinks it unlikely to be reversed.

"The fact is the anti-lockdown narrative of President Jair Bolsonaro has won," Mr Lago told The Associated Press.

"Mayors and governors are politically prohibited from beefing up social distancing policies because they know supporters of the president, including business leaders, will sabotage it."

Why are cases so high?

According to Fiocruz, 92 variants of coronavirus have been identified in Brazil, including the ultra-contagious P.1 variant also known as the Manuas variant.

The increasing prevalence of the variant could see cases continue to mount in the months ahead according to experts.

This paired with Bolsonaro’s rejection of strict lockdown measures embraced by other countries has seen the virus spread across the country without limitations.

Many governors, mayors and judges are now ignoring the increasing numbers of cases and deaths and are reopening parts of the economy despite lingering chaos in overcrowded hospitals.

The country also lags behind much of the world in terms of its vaccine rollout with just 8% of the population vaccinated with one dose so far.

Epidemiologist Ethel Maciel told AFP news agency: "At the rate we're vaccinating... the only way to slow the extremely fast spread of the virus is an effective lockdown for at least 20 days."