Brazil backs away from the virus brink as deaths top 400,000

  • FILE - In this March 31, 2021 file photo, cemetery workers work hours past sundown, as they lower the coffin that contain the remains of a COVID-19 victim into a freshly dug grave at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Nighttime burials at Vila Formosa and three other cemeteries in Sao Paulo were suspended Wednesday, April 28, after two weeks of declining deaths.

    FILE - In this March 31, 2021 file photo, cemetery workers work hours past sundown, as they lower the coffin that contain the remains of a COVID-19 victim into a freshly dug grave at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Nighttime burials at Vila Formosa and three other cemeteries in Sao Paulo were suspended Wednesday, April 28, after two weeks of declining deaths. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this April 14, 2021 file photo, a 43-year-old patient suspected of having COVID-19 is transferred from an ambulance into the HRAN public hospital in Brasilia, Brazil. The South American country has ceased to be the virus' global epicenter, as its death toll ebbed and was overtaken by India's surge. Experts warn, however, that the situation remains precarious, and caution is warranted.

    FILE - In this April 14, 2021 file photo, a 43-year-old patient suspected of having COVID-19 is transferred from an ambulance into the HRAN public hospital in Brasilia, Brazil. The South American country has ceased to be the virus' global epicenter, as its death toll ebbed and was overtaken by India's surge. Experts warn, however, that the situation remains precarious, and caution is warranted. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this March 4, 2021 file photo, COVID-19 patients rest in a field hospital built inside a sports coliseum in Santo Andre, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The country has stepped back from the edge - at least for now '" as burial and hospital services no longer risk collapse. It has ceased to be the virus global epicenter, as its death toll ebbed.

    FILE - In this March 4, 2021 file photo, COVID-19 patients rest in a field hospital built inside a sports coliseum in Santo Andre, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The country has stepped back from the edge - at least for now '" as burial and hospital services no longer risk collapse. It has ceased to be the virus global epicenter, as its death toll ebbed. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this March 19, 2021 file photo, a healthcare worker lends against a wall in the corridor of an ICU unit for COVID-19 patients at the Hospital das Clinicas, in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The number of Brazilian states with ICU capacity above 90% has slipped from 17 months ago, according to data from the state-run Fiocruz medical research institute.

    FILE - In this March 19, 2021 file photo, a healthcare worker lends against a wall in the corridor of an ICU unit for COVID-19 patients at the Hospital das Clinicas, in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The number of Brazilian states with ICU capacity above 90% has slipped from 17 months ago, according to data from the state-run Fiocruz medical research institute. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this March 24, 2021 file photo, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, center, arrives for a press conference following a meeting about the federal government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic at the presidential residence Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, Brazil. Tightened public health measures remain anathema to Bolsonaro; he has called lockdown measures "absurd".

    FILE - In this March 24, 2021 file photo, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, center, arrives for a press conference following a meeting about the federal government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic at the presidential residence Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, Brazil. Tightened public health measures remain anathema to Bolsonaro; he has called lockdown measures "absurd". Associated Press

  • FILE - In this March 30, 2021 file photo, commuters wearing protective face masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, ride in a crowded public bus, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Public health experts say that restrictions on activity and social distancing can help ease pressure on hospitals' overloaded intensive care units, but that the only long-term solution is mass vaccination in a country of 210 million people that is bigger than the contiguous U.S.

    FILE - In this March 30, 2021 file photo, commuters wearing protective face masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, ride in a crowded public bus, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Public health experts say that restrictions on activity and social distancing can help ease pressure on hospitals' overloaded intensive care units, but that the only long-term solution is mass vaccination in a country of 210 million people that is bigger than the contiguous U.S. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this March 20, 2021 file photo, a policeman approaches beachgoers on the Diabo public beach which is closed due to reinstated COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Local leaders have found it hard to enforce lockdown measures while President Jair Bolsonaro is urging people to ignore them.

    FILE - In this March 20, 2021 file photo, a policeman approaches beachgoers on the Diabo public beach which is closed due to reinstated COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Local leaders have found it hard to enforce lockdown measures while President Jair Bolsonaro is urging people to ignore them. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this March 24, 2021 file photo, Brazil's new Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga adjusts his protective face mask before the start of a press conference, at the presidential residence Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, Brazil. Queiroga, the fourth man to occupy the health ministry post during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a doctor who speaks about the need to boost vaccine supply, consults with scientists and has so far displayed the autonomy to promote mask use and social distancing.

    FILE - In this March 24, 2021 file photo, Brazil's new Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga adjusts his protective face mask before the start of a press conference, at the presidential residence Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, Brazil. Queiroga, the fourth man to occupy the health ministry post during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a doctor who speaks about the need to boost vaccine supply, consults with scientists and has so far displayed the autonomy to promote mask use and social distancing. Associated Press

  • A woman flashes a V sign as police break up a social gathering during an operation against illegal and clandestine gatherings that authorities believe are partly responsible for fueling the spread of COVID-19, at a party hall in Sao Paulo, Brazil, early Saturday, April 17, 2021. Local leaders have found it hard to enforce restrictions while President Jair Bolsonaro is urging people to ignore them.

    A woman flashes a V sign as police break up a social gathering during an operation against illegal and clandestine gatherings that authorities believe are partly responsible for fueling the spread of COVID-19, at a party hall in Sao Paulo, Brazil, early Saturday, April 17, 2021. Local leaders have found it hard to enforce restrictions while President Jair Bolsonaro is urging people to ignore them. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this April 7, 2021 file photo, Mobile Emergency Care Service worker Aline Moreira checks on an elderly COVID-19 patient before transferring him to a hospital in Duque de Caxias, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil. Brazil's prolonged period of more than 1,000 daily deaths in mid-2020 is a cautionary specter, and the state-run Fiocruz medical research institute warned in its bulletin that a similar '" but higher '" plateau may be forming.

    FILE - In this April 7, 2021 file photo, Mobile Emergency Care Service worker Aline Moreira checks on an elderly COVID-19 patient before transferring him to a hospital in Duque de Caxias, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil. Brazil's prolonged period of more than 1,000 daily deaths in mid-2020 is a cautionary specter, and the state-run Fiocruz medical research institute warned in its bulletin that a similar '" but higher '" plateau may be forming. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this March 16, 2021 file photo, Dona Dainda, 75, is inoculated with the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine during a house-to-house vaccination campaign in the Kalunga Vao de Almas quilombo on the outskirts of Cavalcante, Goias state, Brazil. The country's slowly unfolding vaccination program appears to have slowed the pace of deaths among the nation's elderly, according to death certificate data.

    FILE - In this March 16, 2021 file photo, Dona Dainda, 75, is inoculated with the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine during a house-to-house vaccination campaign in the Kalunga Vao de Almas quilombo on the outskirts of Cavalcante, Goias state, Brazil. The country's slowly unfolding vaccination program appears to have slowed the pace of deaths among the nation's elderly, according to death certificate data. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this March 16, 2021 file photo, healthcare workers leave a home after vaccinating residents with the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine, during a house-to-house vaccination campaign in the Kalunga Vao de Almas quilombo on the outskirts of Cavalcante, Goias state, Brazil. The country's vast size and deficient infrastructure make getting coronavirus vaccines to far-flung communities of Indigenous peoples and descendants of slaves a particularly daunting endeavor.

    FILE - In this March 16, 2021 file photo, healthcare workers leave a home after vaccinating residents with the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine, during a house-to-house vaccination campaign in the Kalunga Vao de Almas quilombo on the outskirts of Cavalcante, Goias state, Brazil. The country's vast size and deficient infrastructure make getting coronavirus vaccines to far-flung communities of Indigenous peoples and descendants of slaves a particularly daunting endeavor. Associated Press

  • Relatives grieve during the burial service for Monica Cristina, 49, who died from complications related to COVID-19, at the Inahuma cemetery in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, April 28, 2021. Some 2,400 people have died every day over the past week, triple the amount in the U.S.

    Relatives grieve during the burial service for Monica Cristina, 49, who died from complications related to COVID-19, at the Inahuma cemetery in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, April 28, 2021. Some 2,400 people have died every day over the past week, triple the amount in the U.S. Associated Press

  • A family attends the burial service for David Ferreira Gomes, who died from complications related to COVID-19, at the Campo da Esperanca cemetery in Brasilia, Brazil, Friday, April 16, 2021. Brazil marked a milestone of 400,000 COVID-19 deaths Thursday, April 29, 2021, the world's second-highest tally, with the majority recorded in just the last four months.

    A family attends the burial service for David Ferreira Gomes, who died from complications related to COVID-19, at the Campo da Esperanca cemetery in Brasilia, Brazil, Friday, April 16, 2021. Brazil marked a milestone of 400,000 COVID-19 deaths Thursday, April 29, 2021, the world's second-highest tally, with the majority recorded in just the last four months. Associated Press

  • An activist from the NGO "Rio de Paz" digs a mock grave in the sand by symbolic body bags on Copacabana beach to protest the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and to mark the milestone of 400,000 virus deaths in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, April 30, 2021.

    An activist from the NGO "Rio de Paz" digs a mock grave in the sand by symbolic body bags on Copacabana beach to protest the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and to mark the milestone of 400,000 virus deaths in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, April 30, 2021. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/30/2021 10:58 AM

RIO DE JANEIRO -- For most of this month, intensive care units across Brazil were at or near capacity amid a crush of COVID-19 patients, and sedatives needed to intubate patients dwindled. The nation's biggest cemetery had so many corpses to bury that gravediggers worked hours past sundown.

But Brazil has stepped back from the edge - at least for now - as burial and hospital services no longer face collapse. It has ceased to be the virus' global epicenter, as its death toll ebbed and was overtaken by India's surge. Experts warn, however, that the situation remains precarious, and caution is warranted.

 

The number of states with ICU capacity above 90% has slipped to 10, from 17 a month ago, according to data from the state-run Fiocruz medical research institute. And nighttime burials at Vila Formosa and three other cemeteries in Sao Paulo were suspended Thursday, after two weeks of declining deaths.

That comes as cold comfort in a country where some 2,500 people died every day over the past week, more than triple the number in the U.S. Brazil surpassed the grim milestone of 400,000 confirmed deaths on Thursday - a number considered by experts to be an undercount, in part because lack of testing meant many cases were overlooked, especially early in the pandemic. The seven-day average has retreated from more than 3,100 deaths in mid-April, but Fiocruz warned in a bulletin Wednesday that it may plateau -and at an even higher level than it did last year.

'Our goal now is to make the numbers keep going down instead of stabilizing. That's the most crucial thing,' said Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist and coordinator of Brazil's largest COVID-19 testing program. 'It's good that they're going down, but let's not assume that this will be the last wave. There is hope that it will be the last wave, because of the vaccine, but that needs to be confirmed.'

Given slow vaccine rollout, there are millions more Brazilians vulnerable to infection, Hallal added, and the threshold scientists believe is needed to stop uncontrolled spread - 70% or higher of the population with immunity through vaccination or past infection - remains distant.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Brazil's death toll of 401,186 is the world's second-highest, with the majority recorded in just the last four months as a more contagious variant swept the nation. Friday morning, demonstrators laid rows of body bags on the sand of Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach to represent the dead.

Throughout the thick of the Southern Hemisphere's summer, crowds gathered and people boarded public transport in droves as mayors and governors relaxed the restrictions on activity that Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro fervently opposes.

Some mayors and governors tightened such measures over the last month, helping to revert the surge of infections, Fiocruz said. However, they have begun reopening again amid the early, encouraging data.

Valter Gomes, a 33-year-old textile worker in central Sao Paulo, has noted more people riding trains and reopening shops.

'Often the pandemic gets worse because a lot of people who have the opportunity to stay home don't. They go out instead,' he said. 'If everyone contributed, I don't think there would be such a big crisis of having to stop work, having these lockdowns.'

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 


Researchers at Imperial College London this week said Brazil's transmission rate has reached its lowest rate in months.

But the rate remains high, said Domingos Alves, an epidemiologist tracking COVID-19 data, and he argues it's too soon to roll back restrictions. Brazil risks repeating the errors of European countries that have seen third surges, because the country's decline in infections isn't yet sustained, he said.

'The situation in all Brazilian states requires adoption of more drastic measures to contain the virus,' said Alves, an adjunct professor of social medicine at the University of Sao Paulo. 'The number of cases is very high and we aren't doing anything to contain the virus.'

Brazil's number of confirmed cases is widely believed to be an undercount, and the virus is also gaining ground among its neighbors. The ICUs in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, have been pushed to critical levels. Peru, Venezuela, Uruguay and Colombia have seen cases jump in recent weeks. Health experts have cited the circulation of variants, including a strain believed to have originated in Brazil's Amazon, as a contributing factor.

'It's no surprise that many countries in our region have tightened public health measures by extending curfews, limiting re-openings and imposing new stay-at-home orders,' said Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization. 'These decisions are never easy, but based on how infections are surging, this is exactly what needs to happen.'

Such recommendations remain anathema to Bolsonaro; last weekend he called lockdown measures 'absurd' and suggested he could order the army into the streets to restore order.

The president has consistently downplayed the disease and dispensed false hope by touting unproven drugs, which critics say only added to the nation's death toll. This week the Senate began an investigation into the government's alleged failures in managing the pandemic.

The troubled response has been reflected in health minister turnover; the fourth man to occupy the post during the pandemic, Dr. Marcelo Queiroga, took over last month. He has spoken of the need to boost vaccine supply, personally consults with scientists and has so far displayed the autonomy to promote mask use and social distancing. That marks something of a shift from his predecessor, an active-duty general who made explicit his deference to Bolsonaro's wishes on health policy.

Queiroga told reporters this week that the decrease in hospitalizations has eased demand for oxygen and sedatives for intubation. Stopgap donations from big businesses and the governments of Canada and Spain also shored up supply. The Health Ministry is also preparing a tender for the acquisition of more sedatives.

The minister has stopped short of embracing public health experts' calls for lockdowns and restrictions on activity, and hasn't ruled out use of drugs that rigorous testing has shown to be ineffective. But he showed recognition that Brazil isn't yet free and clear, and remains in 'a very serious moment of the pandemic.'

Queiroga joined the World Health Organization's Friday news briefing, and didn't comment on Brazil's grim milestone of 400,000 deaths.

The WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, said the pandemic still threatens to unravel gains Brazil's health care system achieved over decades, but commemorated the recent decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations, cases and deaths.

'We hope this trend continues,' Tedros said, "but the pandemic has taught us that no country can ever let down its guard."

___ AP videojournalist Tatiana Pollastri contributed from Sao Paulo.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.