COVID-19: Number of coronavirus deaths in Brazil surpasses half a million

The number of coronavirus deaths in Brazil has surpassed half a million as experts warn the outbreak there may worsen due to delayed vaccinations and government failures.

The number of deaths has risen to 500,800 after a further 2,301 fatalities were confirmed in the past 24 hours, the health ministry has confirmed.

The country is reported to be experiencing the world’s second-deadliest outbreak as it has the worst official death toll outside the United States, where more than 600,000 fatalities have been recorded.

Thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets across Brazil on Saturday as demonstrators blamed the high number of deaths on far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

People in downtown Rio de Janeiro waved flags with slogans such as “500,000 deaths, it’s his fault” in reference to the Brazilian leader. Another slogan read: “Get out Bolsonaro. Government of hunger and unemployment.”

Similar marches took place in at least 22 or Brazil’s 26 states, as well as in the Federal District, Brasilia.

Only 11% of Brazilians have been fully vaccinated and epidemiologists warn that, with winter arriving in the southern hemisphere and new variants of the coronavirus circulating, deaths will continue to mount even if immunisations gain steam.

Gonzalo Vecina, former head of Brazilian health regulator Anvisa, said: “I think we are going to reach 700,000 or 800,000 deaths before we get to see the effects of vaccination.

“We are experiencing the arrival of these new variants and the Indian variant will send us for a loop.”

Mr Vecina also criticized Mr Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic, including the lack of a coordinated national response and his scepticism toward vaccines, lockdowns and mask-wearing requirements.

Raphael Guimaraes, a researcher at the Fiocruz biomedical centre in Brazil, said delays in the vaccination program in Latin America’s most populous nation meant its full effects would not be felt until September or later.

Mr Guimaraes warned that Brazil could revisit scenes from the worst of its March-April peak, when the country averaged 3,000 deaths per day.

He said: “We are still in an extremely critical situation, with very high transmission rates and hospital bed occupancy that is still critical in many places.”

New confirmed cases in Brazil accelerated to more than 70,000 per day on average this week, edging past India for the most in the world.

Ester Sabino, an epidemiologist at the University of Sao Paulo, has said vaccinations will be crucial in beating the virus in Brazil, since the country has failed to reach a consensus on social distancing and masks,

Evidence from neighbouring Chile, which like Brazil has relied overwhelming on a vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, suggests it may be months before mass immunization will effectively curb transmission.

Nearly half of Chileans have been vaccinated, but their capital Santiago just went back into lockdown as cases surged again to near peak levels.

Brazil will need to inoculate some 80 million people to reach Chile’s current per capita vaccination levels.

That will require a more consistent supply of vaccines and ingredients in Brazil, which have been spotty in recent months, as imports from China were delayed after Mr Bolsonaro antagonized Beijing with comments perceived as anti-Chinese.

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