Brazil hits 500,000 COVID-19 deaths as the Amazon Gamma variant accelerates virus contagion

Brazil protesters
Demonstrators gather with signs and flags during a protest against President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration on June 19, 2021 in Sao Paulo, Brazil Cristina Szucinski/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
  • The number of coronavirus-related deaths passed 500,000 in Brazil on Saturday.
  • Only the US, with 600,000+ deaths, surpasses Brazil.
  • Protesters took to the streets of every Brazilian city to protest Bolsonaro’s pandemic response.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths passed 500,000 in Brazil on Saturday, BBC News reported.

Brazil’s COVID-19 death toll is the second highest in the world, only surpassed by the US.

The infection rates are between 80,000 and 100,000 people every day, Sky News reported. But these are just the recorded figures. The real numbers, the media outlet said, could be up to four times higher.

The situation, according to Brazilian public health institute Fiocruz, is now “critical.”

Experts have warned that the outbreak is set to worsen because of a combination of a slow vaccine rollout, the rapid spread of highly transmissible variants, and President Jair Bolsonaro’s resistance to introducing social distancing measures.

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Only 11 percent of Brazilians are fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times World Vaccination Tracker.

Bolsonaro, a vaccine skeptic who previously suggested that shots could turn people into crocodiles or bearded ladies, has faced criticism for the slow rollout.

He initially touted unproven anti-malaria drugs and, according to a senator’s testimony during a Senate inquiry, backed herd immunity over inoculation.

Bolsonaro asked Pfizer on Tuesday to speed up the delivery of vaccines in a bid to speed up the disappointing rollout, Reuters reported.

The outbreak is also being fueled by the rapid spread of highly transmissible variants, BBC News said.

The Gamma variant, first discovered in the Amazon region, is more resistant to the effects of antibody treatment, according to CNN.

Experts are concerned that the variant could significantly increase the rate of infections over the next few months.

“Brazil faces a critical scenario of community transmission… with the possibility of worsening in the coming weeks due to the start of winter,” Fiocruz, the public health institute, said.

On Saturday, thousands of Brazilian’s protested against Bolsonaro and his government’s pandemic response.

Local media reported that protests took place in all 26 Brazilian states as well as the capital Brasilia, Reuters said.

Protesters were angry that Bolsonaro, amid a worsening COVID-19 situation, for downplaying the pandemic, ignoring mask-wearing guidance, and rejecting social distancing measures as job-killers.