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Brazil’s Bolsonaro ignores calls for lockdown despite galloping COVID-19 death toll

Man sits on sidewalk eating with face mask under his chin
A man eats a meal donated by charity amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Rio de Janeiro.
(Silvia Izquierdo / Associated Press)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro insisted Wednesday that there will be “no national lockdown,” ignoring growing calls from health experts a day after the nation saw its highest number of COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours since the pandemic began.

Brazil’s Health Ministry registered 4,195 deaths Tuesday, becoming the third country to exceed the 4,000 daily mark as Bolsonaro’s political opponents demanded stricter measures to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Brazil has now recorded nearly 341,000 COVID-19 deaths, second only to the death toll in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.

But Bolsonaro, who has dismissed the disease as “a little flu,” has consistently resisted pressure to impose health restrictions on his country.

“We’re not going to accept this politics of ‘stay home and shut everything down,’” he said in a speech in the city of Chapeco in Santa Catarina state. “There will be no national lockdown.”

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Bolsonaro, who himself had a bout of COVID-19 last summer, also defended the use of so-called early treatment protocols, including the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. No scientific studies have found the drug to be effective in preventing or treating COVID-19.

“There is not enough vaccine today in the world. We need to find alternatives,” he said.

Brazil currently accounts for one-quarter of the world’s daily COVID-19 deaths, and health experts warn it is on the verge of even greater calamity.

The number of deaths in Chapeco linked to the coronavirus has finally come down after some very difficult weeks. Demand for intensive care exceeded capacity, forcing authorities to transfer infected patients to hospitals in other states.

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Last month, the city implemented some restrictions on the economy for two weeks, but Bolsonaro attributed Chapeco’s recent success to the use of early treatment protocols, the newspaper Estadao reported.

In an open letter published Tuesday in newspaper O Globo, the Brazilian Assn. of Collective Health, which counts nearly 20,000 members, called for a three-week nationwide lockdown.

“The serious epidemiological situation that is leading to the collapse of the health system in several states requires the immediate adoption, without hesitation, of strict restrictive measures,” the statement said.

Brazil’s federal government says it has reached a deal to purchase 10 million doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19, though the shot is yet to be approved by the South American nation’s health agency.

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Intensive care units in most Brazilian states have an occupancy rate above 90%, though figures have been stable since the past week.

The Supreme Court is due to issue a ruling Thursday on the reopening of religious buildings nationwide. Many local authorities decided to ban large religious gatherings in spite of a federal government decision to label them as part of essential services.

“There is no Christianity without community life,” Brazil’s solicitor general Andre Mendonca, an evangelical pastor, said before the Supreme Court on Wednesday. “True Christians are never willing to kill for their faith, but they are always willing to die to guarantee freedom of religion and worship.”

The preliminary results of an ongoing study involving 67,700 healthcare workers in the Amazonian city of Manaus, where a more contagious coronavirus variant was detected this year, seemed to confirm earlier findings that China’s Sinovac vaccine is effective against the virus. A press release issued Wednesday mentioned a 50% efficacy rate after the administration of just one of the vaccine’s two doses.

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A San Bernardino resident has become the first in California to test positive for the Brazilian coronavirus variant P.1.

The study has not yet been published or peer-reviewed. Several health experts consulted by the Associated Press said it was not possible to properly evaluate the preliminary findings without access to the study’s methodology and full results, but all agreed that it appeared promising.

The study involves researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine, the Yale School of Public Health and Brazil’s state-run Fiocruz Institute, among other institutions.

In its own preliminary study, Sao Paulo’s Butantan Institute also found in March that the vaccine was effective against the P1 coronavirus variant.


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