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Brazil Faces Higher Death Toll Amid Political Infighting and COVID Variants

Political infighting and supply chain challenges have hampered COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Brazil, where less than 7 percent of the population has received its first dose. Meanwhile, the country has become the epicenter of the pandemic, with 3,251 deaths recorded yesterday and registered COVID-19 deaths projected to exceed 300,000 this week, NPR reported.

Politicians have adopted dueling approaches to handling the virus. President Jair Bolsonaro has refused to act on recent calls for a national lockdown, saying it would damage the economy. He has also called regional governors who enact local lockdowns “tyrants,” BMJ reported. According to NPR, when Cinthia Ribeiro, mayor of Palmas, Brazil, enacted a partial lockdown in the city, she was bombarded with death threats and abusive protests at her home.

Almost eight out of 10 Brazilians think the COVID-19 pandemic is out of control in their country, and more than half are “very afraid” that they will be infected with the virus, according to a Datafolha poll released 19 March. Even younger and wealthy Brazilians are more afraid of infection than in past polls. That tracks with new infection rates among younger patients, according MedicalXpress, an online science news service.

Intensive care units across Brazil are reporting higher rates of younger patients, often with no preexisting conditions, being hospitalized with severe cases of COVID-19. In December 2020, the 30- to 59-year-old age group represented 20 percent of COVID deaths in Brazil; by March, that figure increased to 27 percent. In addition, a surge in new cases—partially driven by the emergency of the “P1” variant of the virus and partially by young peoples’ looser adherence to social distancing and masking requirements—has pushed hospitals to the breaking point.

Out of Brazil’s 26 states, 24 have 80 percent or more of their COVID-19 intensive care beds occupied; 15 states have at least 90 percent occupied, according to BMJ. The country’s 212 million population and socioeconomic factors like poverty and multigenerational housing helped spread the virus, but mortality rates in Brazil are particularly high—of Brazilian COVID-19 patients who had to be intubated, nearly eight out of 10 died. The global average is around five out of 10.

Meanwhile the vaccine rollout has been hit by multiple delays, and although officials are promising millions of doses by the end of March, they remain in short supply, CNN reported. While citizens wait for vaccination, medical professionals stress typical virus containment measures—good hygiene, social distancing, no large crowds—but enforcing them has been an overall failure due to mixed messages from across the political spectrum.

Medical professionals are concerned that the unhindered spread of COVID-19 in Brazil could lead to the emergence of additional variants, which may prove more lethal and spread worldwide. If vaccines and public health measures are not swiftly adopted across Brazil, says Dr. Petro Hallal of Epicovid-19, “global efforts to control COVID-19 will be jeopardized.”