Brazil COVID-19 death toll passes 200,000, says Health Ministry

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – Brazil’s Covid-19 death toll passed 200,000 on Thursday amid a surging second wave, with a record number of new cases and the second-highest number of daily deaths since the pandemic began.

Highlighting the long road still ahead to bring the pandemic under control, the South American country recorded 87,843 cases and 1,524 deaths in 24 hours, bringing its total death toll to 200,498 – the second-highest in the world, after the United States.

The bleak milestone doused optimism that 2021 will bring respite anytime soon for a country whose government faces scathing criticism for its erratic handling of the pandemic.

This is supposed to be the year things get better in the pandemic, but in Brazil, 2021 began with a firestorm of controversy over holes in the government’s vaccination plan and far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s continued Covid-19 denialism.

Bolsonaro, who defied expert advice on managing the pandemic at every turn – railing against lockdowns, face masks, social distancing and other “hysteria” – stuck to the same script as the world starts vaccination campaigns.

Critics accuse him of fuelling anti-vaccine scepticism by saying he does not plan to be vaccinated.

Brazil has yet to set a start date for its vaccination drive.

Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said on Thursday it would begin “by January 20, in the best-case-scenario… and at the latest by early March”.

The government struggled to secure enough vaccine doses for Brazil’s 212 million people. It fell flat last week when it tried to purchase enough syringes, securing less than three per cent of the 300 million it tendered.

The highest number of daily deaths in Brazil was 1,595 on July 29.

A new patient suspected of having COVID-19 is pulled into the Regional Hospital of Samambaia, which specialises in the care of coronavirus patients in Brasilia, Brazil. PHOTO: AP