WORLD Brazil's COVID-19 death toll passes 250,000: health ministry


Brazil's COVID-19 death toll passes 250,000: health ministry


06:36, February 26, 2021

Brazil's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed a quarter-million Thursday, a year after the first case was confirmed in the country, which is struggling with vaccine shortages and a devastating second wave.

In this photo taken on January 22, 2021 gravediggers carry the coffin of a COVID-19 victim at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. (File photo: AFP)

The new coronavirus has now killed 251,498 people in Brazil, according to health ministry figures -- the second-highest toll worldwide, after the United States, where the number passed half a million Monday.

This has been the deadliest week yet of the pandemic in Brazil, with a daily average of 1,149 deaths over the past seven days, according to the ministry's figures.

The news came a day before Brazil marks one year since its first confirmed case of the virus, a Sao Paulo businessman returning from a trip to Italy.

Since then, the virus has spread across the sprawling South American country with dire effectiveness.

It has hit especially hard in Brazilian cities' impoverished "favelas," among indigenous communities with vulnerable immune systems, and in the Amazon rainforest city of Manaus, where there have been haunting scenes of mass graves and patients suffocating to death with no oxygen.

President Jair Bolsonaro has meanwhile flouted expert advice on managing the pandemic at every turn, railing against lockdowns and face masks and instead touting the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine despite a series of studies showing it is ineffective against COVID-19.

His government now faces criticism for failing to secure more vaccines.

The hard-hit country began vaccinations in mid-January with Chinese-developed vaccine CoronaVac and another developed by Britain's Oxford University with British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, both of which require two doses.

About six million Brazilians have received a first dose, and 1.3 million have received two.

But the government is far off-pace to meet Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello's pledge of vaccinating all Brazil's 212 million people by the end of the year.

Shortages have forced some key areas to temporarily halt their vaccination drives, including the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.

Federal health regulator Anvisa this week approved the vaccine from US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and German partner BioNTech for widespread use.

However, Brazil must first reach a deal to buy it.

Negotiations with Pfizer have stumbled over who would be held liable for any side effects, with vaccine-skeptic Bolsonaro warning the shot could "turn you into an alligator."

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