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‘Catastrophe’ as Brazil hits record-high daily COVID deaths

Brazil on Tuesday posted its highest number of deaths from COVID-19 in a single day as political infighting exacerbated the country’s health crisis and the pace of its vaccination roll-out faltered.

Some 1,641 people died from COVID-19 on Tuesday, according to Health Ministry data, surpassing the previous single-day high of 1,595 deaths recorded in late July 2020.

More than 257,000 people have died of the disease in Brazil, making it the deadliest outbreak in the world after the United States.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed Brazil’s hospital system to the brink of collapse, and state governors are now joining together to buy vaccines and bypass the federal government, which has been slow to roll out its vaccine programme.

Brazil has continued to have a piecemeal response to the deadly disease, with individual cities and states setting their own policies in the face of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s repeated attacks on restrictive measures and face masks.

Last week, Bolsonaro disparaged the use of face masks, saying they could lead to headaches and a “decreased perception of happiness.”

He had also threatened to cut funding to cities and states that adopt stricter lockdowns.

Roughly 10.6 million people of the country’s 212 million population have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to the Health Ministry, with 59,925 new cases reported on Tuesday.

Several cities and states last week began imposing a new round of restrictions in a bid to avoid overwhelming their already stretched hospitals.

Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanakiew, reporting from Rio de Janeiro, said that mayors and governors were “extremely worried” about the surge in the COVID-19 cases and the situation “getting out of control”.

She noted that Bolsonaro’s continued clashes with state and city officials had contributed to the absence of a unified response to the pandemic.

“This has been the problem since the beginning,” she said.

In Sao Paulo, Sergio Stampar, an associate professor at the city’s state university, said that he had colleagues suffering from COVID-19 and that some were in intensive care.

“Every day more scary and desperate,” Stampar wrote on social media.

More than 257,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil, according to the official count, making it the deadliest outbreak after that of the United States [File: Michael Dantas/AFP]Sam Cowie, a journalist based in Sao Paulo, described the situation as a “bleak and scary time”.

The pressure on the health system is so acute that, during the weekend, at least five COVID-19 patients died while waiting for hospital beds, in Sao Paulo’s neighbouring state of Santa Catarina, Cowie told Al Jazeera.

“What we are seeing here is an absolute health catastrophe, and that is exacerbated by the new variant first detected in Manaus,” he said.

Brazil began its vaccination programme in mid-January, but behind schedule on a government pledge of immunising the entire population by the end of the year.

Only 3 percent of the country’s population has been vaccinated, according to the latest official statistics.

Experts have warned that if Brazil is unable to control the spread of the COVID-19, it could become the epicentre of the mutation of the virus, which could potentially be more infectious and lethal.

The coronavirus variant that was first identified in Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon towards the end of last year triggered a renewed wave of cases that left the city’s hospitals without oxygen in January.

Research is currently under way to test the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines against the variant, which has prompted countries to close their borders to people travelling from Brazil.

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