More than a year into the pandemic, deaths in Brazil are at their peak and highly contagious variants of the coronavirus are sweeping the nation, enabled by political dysfunction, widespread complacency and conspiracy theories. The country, whose leader, President Jair Bolsonaro, has played down the threat of the virus, is now reporting more new cases and deaths per day than any other country in the world.
“We have never seen a failure of the health system of this magnitude,” said Ana de Lemos, the executive director of Doctors Without Borders in Brazil. “And we don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
On [March 31], the country surpassed 300,000 Covid-19 deaths, with roughly 125 Brazilians succumbing to the disease every hour. Health officials in public and private hospitals were scrambling to expand critical care units.
Epidemiologists say Brazil could have avoided additional lockdowns if the government had promoted the use of masks and social distancing and aggressively negotiated access to the vaccines being developed last year.
Instead, Mr. Bolsonaro, a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump, called Covid-19 a “measly flu,” often encouraged large crowds and created a false sense of security among supporters by endorsing anti-malaria and anti-parasite drugs — contradicting leading health officials who warned that they were ineffective.