(This March 4 story corrects seventh paragraph to state Health Ministry is negotiating with Moderna for 2022 vaccine delivery, not 2020)
BRASILIA (Reuters) - After two straight days of record COVID-19 deaths in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday told Brazilians to stop “whining” and move on, in his latest remarks attacking distancing measures and downplaying the gravity of the pandemic.
Brazil has the world’s second-highest death toll over the past year, after the United States. While the U.S. outbreak is ebbing, Brazil is facing its worst phase of the epidemic yet, pushing its hospital system to the brink of collapse.
“Enough fussing and whining. How much longer will the crying go on?” Bolsonaro told a crowd at an event. “How much longer will you stay at home and close everything? No one can stand it anymore. We regret the deaths, again, but we need a solution.”
The Health Ministry registered 75,102 additional cases of coronavirus on Thursday, the most in a single day since July and the second-highest on record. Brazil also recorded 1,699, decreasing slightly from the previous two days of record deaths.
Brazil’s surging second wave has triggered new restrictions in its capital, Brasilia, and its largest city, Sao Paulo. Tourist mecca Rio de Janeiro on Thursday announced a city-wide curfew and early closing time for restaurants.
The federal government has been slow to purchase and distribute vaccines, with less than 3.5% of the population having gotten one shot.
The government is working to obtain additional vaccines from more suppliers. The Health Ministry is negotiating to buy 2 million additional Pfizer doses by May, 16.9 million Janssen doses by September and 63 million doses of the Moderna vaccine by January 2022, according to documents reviewed by Reuters on Thursday.
Particularly worrying to health authorities is the emergence of a new coronavirus variant from the Amazon region that appears more contagious and more able to reinfect those who have already had COVID-19.
Government-affiliated medical institute Fiocruz said that it has detected the Amazon, United Kingdom and South African variants spreading in various places across the country.
“We are experiencing the worst outlook for the pandemic since it started,” said Gonzalo Vecina Neto, a medical doctor and former head of Brazilian health regulator Anvisa.
“Mutations are the result of the increased reproduction of the virus. The greater the number of viruses, the faster the transmission, the more mutations we have,” he said
State governors and doctors have complained that the federal government has mismanaged the coronavirus crisis, as Bolsonaro has downplayed its severity and opposed lockdowns.
Nevertheless, Bolsonaro’s popularity has been supported by 322 billion reais ($57.7 billion) in emergency aid payments to poorer Brazilians last year.
The Senate voted on Thursday to renew the aid program at a smaller scale, handing out 250 reais per month for four months, at a cost of up to 44 billion reais. The proposal must still be approved by Brazil’s lower house of Congress.
Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Ricarod Brito in Brasilia and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro; Additional reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello in Brasilia and Rodrigo Viga Gaier in Rio de Janeiro; Writing by Jake Spring; Editing by Brad Haynes, Aurora Ellis and Sonya Hepinstall
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