Brazil closes out deadliest month of pandemic by far

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) –


Brazil closed out its deadliest month of the coronavirus pandemic by far on Wednesday as a surge of Covid-19 patients overwhelmed hospitals, forcing doctors to make agonizing decisions over whom to give life-saving care.

With 57,606 Covid-19 deaths from March 1 to 30, the health ministry recorded 75 percent more fatalities than the second-deadliest month of the pandemic in Brazil, July 2020.

Full-month figures for March were expected late Wednesday.

"Never in Brazilian history have we seen a single event kill so many people in 30 days," said Dr Miguel Nicolelis, coordinator of the pandemic response team for Brazil's impoverished northeast.

With the southern hemisphere winter now approaching and the virus spreading fast, Brazil is facing "a perfect storm," he told AFP.

That is worrying not just for Brazil but for the rest of the world.

Brazil's average daily death toll has nearly quadrupled since the start of the year, to 2,710 this week, the highest by far worldwide.

Health experts say the recent explosion of cases in the sprawling South American country of 212 million people is partly driven by a local variant of the virus known as "P1."

Believed to be more contagious, P1 can re-infect people who have had the original strain of the virus, and has spread to more than two dozen countries, including the United States, Britain and Japan.

And as long as the pandemic continues to rage unchecked in Brazil, there is a risk that more variants could emerge in the country, researchers say.

President Jair Bolsonaro faces mounting criticism for his handling of the pandemic.

The far-right leader's resistance to lockdowns, face masks and vaccines has caused a firestorm of controversy as Covid-19 has claimed more than 317,000 lives in Brazil, second only to the United States.

"We're at the worst moment of the pandemic, and indications are that April will be very bad, too," said epidemiologist Ethel Maciel of Espirito Santo Federal University.

With the national vaccination campaign advancing slowly due to a shortage of doses, "The worst is yet to come," she told AFP.

Covid-19 beds in intensive care units are more than 90 percent full in 18 of Brazil's 27 states, and another seven states are approaching that level.

At least 230 patients with suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19 died waiting for a bed in intensive care in Sao Paulo this month, according to TV Globo.

"We're in a very tragic situation," said Maciel.