Brazil registered more than 4,000 Covid-19 deaths in 24 hours for the first time on Tuesday, as the country reeled from a surge of infections that has made it the current epicentre of the pandemic.
The death toll of 4,195, brings the overall number of deaths in the country to nearly 337,000 – second only to the United States.
Miguel Nicolelis, professor of neurology at Duke University and the former coordinator of the pandemic response team for the northeast of the country, said: “It’s a nuclear reactor that has set off a chain reaction and is out of control. It’s a biological Fukushima.
“Brazil now is not only the epicentre of the pandemic worldwide, it is a threat to the entire effort of the international community to control the pandemic on the planet.
“If Brazil is not under control, the planet is not going to be under control. It’s not going to be safe because we’re brewing new variants every week and these variants – some of them – are more transmissible and may be more lethal.
“And they are going to make it into neighbouring countries and will eventually go around the world.”
Brazil’s health system is buckling under the strain of the latest wave, which has forced doctors into decisions over which patients to give life-saving care to. It has also led cemeteries to hold night-time burials to deal with the high volume of coffins.
“We’re in a dreadful situation, and we’re not seeing effective measures by either state or federal governments” to respond, said epidemiologist Ethel Maciel of Espirito Santo Federal University.
“At the rate we’re vaccinating – 10pc of the population (with a first dose) so far – the only way to slow the extremely fast spread of the virus is an effective lockdown for at least 20 days.
“Unfortunately, politics has brought us where we are today – this enormous number of people who have lost their lives. Very sad.”
The country of 212 million people has registered an average of 2,757 Covid-19 deaths per day over the past week, the highest worldwide.
It has recorded 160 deaths per 100,000 people, behind countries such as the Czech Republic (254) and the UK (187), but still one of the 10 highest rates in the world.
Intensive care units are more than 90pc full in 18 of Brazil’s 27 states, according to public health institute Fiocruz. All but two of the rest are in the “critical alert zone” of more than 80pc occupancy.
Experts say the surge is partly caused by a local variant of the virus, known as P1, that can reinfect people who have had the original strain. It is believed to be more contagious.
The government has, meanwhile, struggled to secure enough vaccines, at times forcing authorities to suspend immunisation drives in some areas.
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