Rudderless Brazil nears 300,000 Covid deaths in pandemic’s worst phase

Rio de Janeiro, Mar 23 (efe-epa).- Brazil, the current epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, is on the verge of 300,000 Covid-19 deaths while the scarcity of bottled oxygen and medicines for virus patients threatens to worsen the collapse the country is already experiencing due to the lack of beds in intensive care units.

The critical situation has the South American giant on the ropes, and besides the serious crisis in the health care system criticism remains about the Jair Bolsonaro government’s disjointed response to the pandemic and in confronting the current wave of infections, which is significantly worse than the initial wave.

While some of Brazil’s most populous states, including Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, have adopted severe measures to try and limit infections, the ultrarightist leader continues to deny the seriousness of the pandemic and has even gone to the Supreme Court to limit the powers of regional leaders in addressing the matter.

The high court on Tuesday rejected the president’s motion, calling it “totalitarian,” and ratified the decision it had already handed down last year that regional and local governments have the autonomous authority to impose restrictive measures against Covid whenever such measures are backed by a scientific committee.

Bolsonaro, one of the world’s leaders most adamant in downplaying the virus, is encouraging Brazilians to go about their daily tasks normally, holding large public gatherings and going without face masks or social distancing, and he has continuously criticized the tightening of measures adopted by mayors and governors around the country, including the closing of businesses and curfews to restrict mobility with an eye toward keeping the spread of the virus in check.

In addition, the Health Ministry has been adrift, and although it’s been eight days since Marcelo Queiroga was appointed the new health minister – the fourth to hold office during the pandemic – only on Tuesday was he formally installed in the post at a private ceremony that was not on the official government agenda, taking over from Army Gen. Eduardo Pazuello.

The ministry has been undertaking a rather slow vaccination campaign and working in a reactive manner, seeking to put out occasional fires caused by the lack of bottled oxygen and a lack of ICU supplies but without a concrete overall plan to deal with the health crisis.

Since Jan. 17, when the first person was vaccinated against Covid in Brazil, some 14 million doses have been distributed, with about 6.6 percent of the population receiving at least one dose.

Regarding the oxygen shortage, the ministry said that six states are concerned about the matter – Acre, Rondonia, Mato Grosso, Amapa, Ceara and Rio Grande do Norte.

The situation is also being watched closely in Sao Paulo, where the Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the deaths of three people in the state capital after they were transported from a health center where there was no oxygen available.

Sao Paulo, the country’s economic engine with 46 million residents, has been the state hardest hit by the pandemic with more than 68,000 deaths and 2.3 million confirmed cases, and within the past 24 hours 1,021 deaths were reported, almost double the daily record of 679 set just a week ago.

The exponential growth in infection, aggravated by the spread of new and more virulent variants of the virus, has resulted in Sao Paulo ICUs approaching maximum occupancy, with 92 percent of the beds now taken.

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