Brazil resorts to lockdowns and curfews to quell COVID-19 surge

2 minute read

Demonstrators hold banners during a protest honouring the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victims, asking for vaccines and against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, in front of Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, January 8, 2021. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

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BRASILIA, Feb 26 (Reuters) - The governor of Brazil’s capital city, Brasilia, decreed a 24-hour lockdown for all but essential services on Friday to curb a worsening COVID-19 outbreak that has filled its intensive care wards to the brim.

A dozen states running out of beds for patients locked down their main cities, and some declared a night-time curfew to try to stop the spread of novel coronavirus as cases escalated to their worst level since the peak of the pandemic in July.

The drastic steps came as right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly downplayed the gravity of the pandemic that has killed 250,000 Brazilians, renewed attacks on governors for destroying jobs with lockdowns.

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"People can't stay at home any longer. What they most want is to work," he said on a visit to northeastern Brazil on Friday, one day after Brazil recorded its second-worst daily toll of 1,541 dead. He threatened to cut off federal emergency pandemic assistance to states resorting to lockdowns.

"From now on, governors who close down their states will have to provide for their own emergency aid," Bolsonaro said.

In Brasilia, where the president lives and works, Governor Ibaneis Rocha decreed a lockdown starting early on Sunday.

Shops, pharmacies, gas stations, churches and funeral parlors will remain open, the aide said, but everything else will shut down, especially bars and restaurants, which were blamed for increased spread during the end of last year and Carnival holidays.

Intensive care wards in Brasilia, the third-largest city in Brazil, are more than 80% occupied, the health department said.

The situation in the capitals of 17 of Brazil's 26 states this week reached the most critical level since last year's peak, according to a report by biomedical center Fiocruz.

Brazil reported 65,169 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, and 1,337 deaths, the health ministry said on Friday.

The South American country has now registered 10,455,630 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 252,835, according to ministry data, in the world’s third-worst outbreak outside the United States and India and the world’s second-deadliest.

Bolsonaro, who has called COVID-19 a "little flu" and says he will not take any vaccine, is facing growing criticism for failing to secure timely supplies of shots. So far, only 3% of the population has been vaccinated.

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Reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia Additional reporting by Pedro Fonzeca Editing by Matthew Lewis

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