Brazil breaches 90,000 Covid cases in record day

The Health Ministry also reported 2,648 deaths from the virus in the last 24 hours, pushing the total to 284,775. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BRASILIA (BLOOMBERG) - Brazil registered more than 90,000 Covid-19 cases for the first time, a second straight day of record numbers as the country fights against a health system collapse.

Latin America's largest nation reported 90,303 new infections on Wednesday (March 17), taking the toll to about 11.7 million cases. The Health Ministry also reported 2,648 deaths from the virus in the last 24 hours, pushing the total to 284,775.

On Tuesday, Brazil had reported a record 2,841 deaths from the respiratory disease.

The figures come hours after a poll showed President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the Covid crisis is disapproved by 54 per cent of Brazilians, according to a Datafolha survey published Wednesday.

That's up from 48 per cent in January, and the worst reading since the virus first arrived in the country a year ago. The president's overall rejection - those who rate him as bad or terrible - rose to 44 per cent from 40 per cent in the previous poll.

Datafolha surveyed 2,023 people throughout Brazil on March 15 and 16, with a margin of error of about 2 per cent.

Criticism over the government's erratic handling of the pandemic has grown as health-care systems around the country collapse and the economic recovery loses steam.

The Latin American nation is undergoing the worst phase of the crisis yet, with a record 2,841 deaths and 83,926 new cases on Tuesday alone. After surpassing India in total infections last week, it trails only the US in both counts.

This week, Mr Bolsonaro appointed Dr Marcelo Queiroga as the country's new health minister - the fourth in the past year - to try to get a grip on the crisis.

General Eduardo Pazuello, who had been on the job since May, had come under increasing pressure amid worsening numbers and a slow negotiation of vaccine deals that has left cities and states with few shots at hand.

While Dr Queiroga, a cardiologist, made nods to the importance of mask-wearing and basic hygiene measures to fight off the virus, he signalled the country's approach to the pandemic is unlikely to change drastically.

The one responsible for setting policies, he said, is Mr Bolsonaro. The president has repeatedly shunned social distancing measures and often dismissed vaccines.

At the same time, a study by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation showed Brazil is facing the biggest sanitary and hospital collapse in its history. The occupancy rate of ICUs at public hospitals is above 80 per cent, a threshold considered critical, in almost all states. In 19 of 27 state capitals, more than 90 per cent of beds are occupied.

"To avoid even more cases and deaths, and lower the occupancy rates, the researchers defend tough prevention and control measures, as well as more staunch restrictive measures to non-essential businesses," the foundation known as Fiocruz said. "More physical and social distancing measures, large-scale mask wearing and a speeding up of vaccinations are needed."

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Brazil on Tuesday reported a record number of Covid-19 deaths just as the country's new health minister nominee pledged to continue the controversial policies of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the severity of the disease.

Brazil has deployed almost 14.5 million vaccine doses, about two months after it officially kicked off its mass immunisation campaign. That means about 5 per cent of the population has received a first shot, and 1.8 per cent have been fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Currently, the country has two vaccines available: AstraZeneca Plc's and Sinovac Biotech Ltd's. Both have agreements to be produced locally.

Fiocruz, which partnered with AstraZeneca, will deliver 6 million doses a week starting in April, the foundation's director Mauricio Zuma said at a press conference. Also on Wednesday, Mr Pazuello said half of Brazil's population will be vaccinated by July, adding that the pandemic will be under control in the second half of this year.

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