On Tuesday, Brazil’s health ministry reported 4,195 Covid-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, well above the country’s prior single-day record of 3,869 set on March 31.
Brazil has set daily death records every week since late February, and the country’s overall death toll now trails only the US outbreak. Nearly 337,000 have been killed, according to health ministry data, compared with more than 555,000 in the United States.
As soon as next week, Brazil may break the record US seven-day average for Covid-19 deaths, according to a model by the influential Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.
The US average for daily deaths peaked at 3,285 in January. The Brazil 7-day average is currently 2,757.
“It’s a nuclear reactor that has set off a chain reaction and is out of control. It’s a biological Fukushima,” Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian doctor and professor at Duke University, told Reuters.
What’s to blame?
Largely, this man: Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro has spent the pandemic playing down not only the risks of Covid, which he dismissed early on as a “little flu” and a media conspiracy, but also the huge death toll that has happened on his watch.
He has pushed back against mask-wearing, lockdowns and any other measure designed to limit the effects of the pandemic and has only recently and reluctantly began to tout the benefits of vaccines.
It even took an order from a Brazilian judge to make the 66-year-old wear a mask in public and he has often ventured into crowds to shake hands with his supporters.
At its current rate Brazil could reach 500,000 deaths by the end of July and pass the United States as the global leader in total deaths by the beginning of 2022.
Instead of concentrating on the pandemic, Bolsonaro has been preoccupied with shaking up his government.
His handling of the pandemic has seen his popularity slide and he is up against leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the 2022 presidential election.
In a shock move, the leaders of all three branches of Brazil’s armed forces jointly resigned last week following Bolsonaro’s replacement of the defence minister, a move that fuelled widespread apprehension of a military shake-up to serve the president’s political interests.
The defence ministry reported the resignations in a statement without any reasons being given for them.
Replacements were not named, but analysts expressed fears the president, increasingly under pressure, was moving to assert greater control over the military.
“Since 1985 [when military rule ended], we haven’t had news of such clear intervention of the president with regard to the armed forces,” said Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo.