A patient being taken by ambulance to a dedicated coronavirus hospital in Rio de Janeiro state on Tuesday. Brazil’s death toll has climbed to almost 337,000. Photograph: Felipe Dana/AP
Brazil’s coronavirus catastrophe has deepened further after more than 4,000 daily deaths were reported for the first time since the outbreak began in February last year.
At least 4,195 people were reported to have lost their lives on Tuesday, taking Brazil’s total death toll – the world’s second highest after the US – to nearly 337,000.
Brazil also reported 86,979 new infections. Experts fear a record 100,000 Brazilians could lose their lives this month alone if nothing is done.
“It’s a nuclear reactor that has set off a chain reaction and is out of control. It’s a biological Fukushima,” said Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian doctor and professor at Duke University in the US, who is closely tracking the virus.
Despite the growing crisis, Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, continues to resist the idea of a lockdown and downplay the epidemic. “In which country aren’t people dying?” he said last week.
Brazil, which has 212 million citizens compared with the US’s 328 million, is expected to overtake the US weekly average for daily deaths in the coming days.
Many governors, mayors and judges are reopening parts of the economy despite lingering chaos in overcrowded hospitals and a collapsed healthcare system in several parts of the country. Local authorities nationwide claim that numbers of cases and hospitalisations are trending downward after a week of a partial shutdown.
Miguel Lago, the executive director of Brazil’s Institute for Health Policy Studies, which advises public health officials, said reopening was a mistake that he feared would bring even higher death numbers, though he thought it unlikely to be reversed.
“The fact is the anti-lockdown narrative of President Jair Bolsonaro has won,” Lago said. “Mayors and governors are politically prohibited from beefing up social distancing policies because they know supporters of the president, including business leaders, will sabotage it.”
Bolsonaro, who has long dismissed the risks of the coronavirus, remains fully against lockdowns as damaging to the economy.
Covid-19 patients are using more than 90% of beds in intensive care units in most Brazilian states, though figures have stabilised over the past week. Still, hundreds of people are dying as they wait for care and basic supplies such as oxygen and sedatives are running out in several states.
Less than 3% of Brazil’s 210 million people have received both doses of coronavirus vaccines, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.
Over the weekend, supreme court justices started a tug of war about the reopening of religious buildings, which were closed by many local authorities despite a federal government decision to label them as essential services.
Some churches welcomed their faithful on Easter Sunday, but others were stopped by mayors and governors. Their reopening will be settled at the supreme court on Wednesday, but some local councils, such as Belo Horizonte, voted on Tuesday to keep religious buildings open.
Also on Tuesday, a Rio de Janeiro judge allowed schools to reopen as the mayor, Eduardo Paes, wanted. Hours later, the mayors of Campinas and Sorocaba, two of the most populous cities in São Paulo state, agreed to reopen business with a drive-through purchase system after a 10-day halt.
Professional football executives in São Paulo said they expected to play games this week after a 15-day interruption, promising local prosecutors they would follow stricter health protocols.