Brazil has now suffered the second highest number of deaths from COVID-19 – more than 400,000 – of any country in the world, after the United States, and the third highest number of cases. In recent weeks, in fact, Brazil has been responsible for about a fifth of all COVID-19 deaths worldwide – more than any other country except, recently, India. Home to 2.7% of the world’s population, Brazil has suffered 12.8% of the world’s deaths. At the current rate, more than a dozen Brazilians will die from COVID-19 in the time it takes to read this article.
In January, the Lowy Institute ranked Brazil last in its investigation into the management of the COVID-19 pandemic in 98 countries. Bloomberg’s resilience ranking, which aims to measure how well 53 governments are dealing with the crisis, currently ranks Brazil 53rd.
The country’s outbreak has been fueled in recent months by the P.1 variant, which emerged in the Amazon region of Manaus last fall. Studies in Brazil indicate that the variant, which particularly affects young people in new and alarming ways, may be up to twice as contagious as previous forms of the virus, and 61% more likely to re-infect people, although nothing is ‘further indicates that it is more lethal or able to evade immunity from current vaccines. Brazil’s health care systems have been under severe strain, as a result of an ongoing crush of COVID-19 patients that has resulted in an acute shortage of intensive care unit beds and essential supplies such as l oxygen, anesthetics and intubation drugs.
“The more contagion you have, the higher the likelihood that you will have a mutation and that this mutation will lead to a more contagious variant. And that’s exactly what happened, ”said Frenk, now president of the University of Miami.
The huge wave in Brazil has started to diminish, but it appears to be sweeping over other countries in South America, all but two of which share a land border with Brazil. The P.1 variant is now available in at least 44 countries, including the United States.
Pedro Hallal, the lead investigator of EPICOVID-19, the largest epidemiological study of COVID-19 in Brazil, told me he was concerned about the emergence of new variants in Brazil that could, for example, be more dangerous for children or impair the effectiveness of existing vaccines. Brazil, he said, has become a “factory of variants”.
Brazil’s predicament is particularly striking because it had an earlier warning about COVID-19 than its neighbors; the first case of the virus in Latin America and the Caribbean was reported in Brazil on February 26, 2020. And yet Bolsonaro and his government allies have chosen to waste their precious time.