Brazil Surpasses 250,000 Covid Deaths Amid Vaccination Hurdles

Brazil reached the mark of 250,000 deaths from Covid-19 as local governments deal with a shortage of vaccines and struggle to contain the spread of the disease.

The milestone comes just days after the country became the second in the world to record 10 million cases from the respiratory disease. Data released on Thursday showed 1,541 new deaths and 65,998 infections in the past 24 hours, taking the tolls to 251,498 and 10,390,461, respectively.

While the virus seems to be receding globally, Brazil is battling a resurgence of the infections, which has been made worse by year-end gatherings and a new strain found in the Northern city of Manaus. Latin America’s largest nation has seen over 1,000 deaths a day for most of the year, adding 50,000 fatalities in less than two months.

“What we are seeing is how incapable the country was in setting measures to block transmission, facilitating its reproduction,” said Bernardino Albuquerque, a researcher at Fiocruz Amazonia. “The future is uncertain, worrying and above all desperate.”

Brazil Surpasses 250,000 Covid Deaths Amid Vaccination Hurdles

With the pace of contagion picking up, local governments have begun to order new social distancing restrictions. On Wednesday, Sao Paulo, the country’s most populous state, said it would tighten rules on who is allowed to circulate between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. and crack down on enforcement to disband events and large gatherings. The restrictions, which are in place until mid-March, come after ICU beds reached the highest occupancy rates since the pandemic first arrived a year ago. Bahia and Rio Grande do Sul are among other states that had already suspended activities during the night.

Vaccine slowness

A slow roll out of vaccines amid political fights and production bottlenecks has added to concerns. The country’s talks with companies like Pfizer Inc have dragged on for months, leaving the nation of 212 million people relying on just two boosters: Sinovac Biotech Ltd’s CoronaVac and AstraZeneca Plc’s. In cities like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, vaccinations were temporarily suspended in mid-February, about a month after they started, as shots ran out.

“The pace of vaccinations is well below what the health system can do, but there are few doses arriving at states and municipalities,” Fiocruz researcher Raphael Saldanha said.

Brazil Surpasses 250,000 Covid Deaths Amid Vaccination Hurdles

Local administrations expect to receive more doses in the next few days -- the Butantan Institute is expected to deliver 3.9 million shots of CoronaVac this month, and Fiocruz received a new batch of AstraZeneca vaccines on Tuesday. Both institutions have agreements to produce vaccines locally, though production was delayed because of problems getting inputs from China.

Aid

The worsening of the pandemic and ensuing restrictions have added pressure for a new round of aid, which will likely cause Brazil to bend fiscal responsibility rules for the second year in a row, said a government official with knowledge of the matter. The cash handouts will probably cost around 30 billion reais ($5.5 billion) to federal coffers.

“The resumption of activities is important especially for the most vulnerable,” said Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist who coordinated a large-scale study of how many Brazilians have been exposed to coronavirus. “Thinking long term, both for the economy and public healthcare, the best would be to have fewest amount of lives lost.”

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