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LATIN AMERICA | 19-06-2021 21:54

Third pandemic wave hits as Brazil surpasses half a million Covid deaths

Brazil became the second country after the United States to surpass 500,000 Covid-19 deaths, and real toll may be higher.

Brazil on Saturday became the second country after the United States to surpass 500,000 Covid-19 deaths as the South American giant grapples with a third wave of the pandemic.

"500,000 lives lost due to the pandemic that affects our Brazil and the world," Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga tweeted. 

The Health Ministry reported 500,800 deaths, including 2,301 in the last 24 hours, a toll that many epidemiologists say is an undercount.

This week the average number of daily deaths surpassed 2,000 for the first time since May 10.

"The third wave is arriving, there's already in a change in the case and death curves," Ethel Maciel, an epidemiologist from Espirito Santo University, told AFP.

"Our vaccination (program), which could make a difference, is slow and there are no signs of restrictive measures, quite the contrary."

In large cities, life seems almost back to normal with restaurants, bars and shops open and many people in the streets not wearing face masks.

And yet the situation is critical in 19 of Brazil's 27 states with more than 80 percent occupancy of intensive care beds — in nine of those states it's over 90 percent.

According to the latest weekly report from the Fiocruz medical research foundation, the country is in a "critical" situation with a high number of deaths and the possibility of things worsening in coming weeks as winter arrives in the southern hemisphere.

Experts are concerned about the slow rollout of the country's vaccination campaign, the spread of more aggressive virus variants and President Jair Bolsonaro's hostility toward preventative measures like mask wearing and lockdown measures. 

Queiroga tweeted that he was working "tirelessly to vaccinate all Brazilians in the shortest possible time and change this scenario that has plagued us for more than a year."

— Times, AFP, Louis Genot

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