Brazil has become one of the epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic in the world.

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the South American country has registered more than 4,000 deaths related to covid-19 in a 24-hour period, while the number of cases continues to increase driven by a more contagious variant of the virus.

Hospitals are crammed with people dying while awaiting treatment in some cities and the healthcare system is on the brink of collapse in many areas.

Until this Tuesday, the total death toll in the country totaled more than 336,000, surpassed only by the United States.

But President Jair Bolsonaro continues to oppose any confinement measure to stop the outbreak.

He maintains that the damage to the economy would be worse than the effects of the virus itself and has, in fact, tried to reverse some of the restrictions imposed by local authorities.

Speaking to supporters outside the presidential residence on Tuesday, Bolsonaro criticized the quarantine measures, saying they were linked to obesity and depression and led to unemployment. He said nothing about the 4,195 deaths in the last 24 hours.

Till the date, Brazil has registered more than 13 million cases of coronavirus, according to the Ministry of Health. Some 66,570 people died with Covid-19 in March, more than double the previous monthly record.

Health crisis

In most states, Covid-19 patients occupy more than 90% of intensive care unit bedsAlthough the numbers have been stable since last week, according to the Fiocruz health institute.

Several states have reported oxygen and sedative supply shortages. But despite the critical situation, some cities and states are already making the measures that limit the movement of people more flexible.

“The fact is that President Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-confinement narrative has won out. Mayors and governors are politically prevented from enforcing social distancing policies because they know that the president’s supporters, including business leaders, will sabotage them,” said Miguel Lago, executive director of the Brazilian Institute for Health Policy Studies, to the Associated Press.

The far-right president – who repeatedly downplayed the virus, raised questions about vaccines and defended unproven drugs as a treatment – has seen his popularity drop amid strong criticism for his handling of the crisis.

Recently, he has changed his tone about immunizations and pledged to make 2021 the year of vaccines. But the country has struggled with the implementation of its immunization program.

Critics say his government was slow to negotiate supplies amid a global race, leaving Brazil facing delays in receiving doses. Only about 8% of the country’s population has received at least one dose, according to the Our World in Data project.

Epidemiologist Ethel Maciel said the country was in a “terrible situation.”

“At the rate we are vaccinating … the only way to stop the extremely rapid spread of the virus is an effective blockade for at least 20 days,” he told the AFP news agency.

The Fiocruz Institute says that has detected 92 variants of coronavirus in the country, including the P.1 variant, or the Brazilian variant, which has become a cause for concern because it is believed to be much more contagious than the original strain and has been linked to an increase in infections and deaths in several countries of South America.

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