Brazil: 600k COVID deaths, cases slowing

·3-min read

Bars in Sao Paulo are full again for evening happy hours, politicians in the capital of Brasilia have nearly done away with video sessions via Zoom, and Rio de Janeiro's beaches are packed. Calls for strict social distancing seem but a memory.

Brazil appears intent on returning to pre-pandemic normalcy, even as its death toll tops 600,000, according to official data on Friday from the health ministry.

The South American country became the second nation after the United States to pass 600,000 fatalities caused by the virus.

The country's average daily death toll has hovered around 500 for a month, down sharply from more than 3000 in April.

Almost 45 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, and a booster shot is being administered to the elderly. A greater percentage of Brazilians are at least partially vaccinated compared to Americans or Germans, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.

Improvement has encouraged mayors and governors to admit fans into soccer matches, and let bars and restaurants stay open until the small hours.

Some are even contemplating the end of mask mandates, which people often ignore anyway.

Marcelo Queiroga, Brazil's fourth health minister since the pandemic hit, suggested in a press conference on Friday masks should not be mandatory. "Why would I pass a law to force people to use condoms? Don't even think of it," he said.

Rio's mayor has announced plans to bring back the city's massive New Year's Eve party on Copacabana beach.

Analysts remain worried about the Delta variant's potential to spread.

Among them is Miguel Lago, executive director of Brazil's Institute for Health Policy Studies, which advises public health officials.

He believes authorities are taking considerable risk by reopening too much and announcing celebrations, and that Brazil may soon see more hospital admissions.

"The pandemic has waned, but 500 deaths per day is far from good. And we don't even have half the population fully vaccinated," Lago said.

Friday morning, on Copacabana where Rio's New Year's party will take place in less than three months, activist group Rio da Paz held a memorial on its sands to mourn the 600,000 dead, with hundreds of white handkerchiefs strung on lines.

Across town, at a support group for family members of the virus' victims, Bruna Chaves mourned the loss of her mother and stepfather.

"It's not just 600,000 people who are gone; it's a lot of people who die with them, emotionally," Chaves said in an interview.

"It's absurd that people treat it like it's a small number. It's a big number."

Many in Brazil continue to downplay the pandemic's severity, chief among them President Jair Bolsonaro, whose popularity has sagged due to his government's chaotic pandemic response.

He also continues to criticise restrictions on activity adopted by mayors and governors, saying Brazil needed to keep the economy humming to avoid inflicting worse hardship on the poor.

On Thursday night, during a live broadcast on Facebook, he showed a series of newspaper articles reporting economic turmoil in Europe and the US in an attempt to prove he was right all along.

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