BRASILIA/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil’s death toll from COVID-19 passed 100,000 on Saturday and continue to climb as most Brazilian cities reopen shops and dining even though the pandemic has yet to peak.
Confronting its most lethal outbreak since the Spanish flu a century ago, Brazil reported its first cases of the novel coronavirus at the end of February. The virus took three months to kill 50,000 people, and just 50 days to kill the next 50,000.
Led by President Jair Bolsonaro, who has played down the gravity of the pandemic and fought lockdowns by local officials, Brazilians who protested nightly from their windows in the first months of the outbreak have met the grim milestone with a shrug.
“We should be living in despair, because this is a tragedy like a world war. But Brazil is under collective anesthesia,” said Dr. José Davi Urbaez, a senior member of the Infectious Diseases Society.
He and other pubic health experts have raised the alarm that Brazil still has no coordinated plan to fight the pandemic, as many officials focus on “reopening,” which is likely to boost the spread of the disease and worsen the outbreak.
The health ministry on Saturday reported 49,970 new confirmed cases and 905 deaths in the last 24 hours, raising the number of cases to more than 3 million and the death toll to 100,477.
Brazil’s Supreme Court and Congress, institutions that have criticized Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic, respectively declared three and four days of national mourning for the 100,000 dead. The president did not comment publicly.
Two health ministers, both physicians, have resigned over differences with Bolsonaro. The acting health minister is an army general who has abandoned the call for social distancing, which experts says is essential but the president opposes.
Bolsonaro, who has called COVID-19 a “little flu,” says he recovered from his own infection thanks to hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that remains unproven against the coronavirus.
“We don’t know where it will stop, maybe at 150,000 or 200,000 deaths. Only time will show the full impact of COVID-19 here,” said Alexandre Naime, head of Sao Paulo State University’s department of infectious diseases.
He said the only comparison may be diseases brought by colonizers, such as smallpox, that decimated indigenous populations when Europeans first arrived in the Americas.
While that history is long past, Urbaez said Brazil today seems equally resigned to the COVID-19 deaths to come.
“The government’s message today is: ‘Catch your coronavirus and if it’s serious, there is intensive care.’ That sums up our policy today,” said Urbaez of the Infectious Disease Society.
Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro, additional reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello and Sabrina Valle; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes and Leslie Adler
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