Bolsonaro again refuses lockdown as Brazil COVID crisis drags on

Authorities in Sao Paulo say they plan to open a ‘vertical cemetery’ to handle continuing surge in coronavirus deaths.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has reiterated that he has no plans to order a national lockdown, a day after the nation saw its highest number of coronavirus deaths in 24 hours.

Brazil’s Health Ministry registered 3,829 deaths on Wednesday, slightly lower than 4,195 fatalities from the previous day, a grim national record.

“We’re not going to accept this politics of stay home and shut everything down,” said Bolsonaro during a speech in the city of Chapeco, resisting mounting pressure on his government to account for its handling of the surging pandemic.

“There will be no national lockdown,” he said.

Bolsonaro, a COVID-19 sceptic who has downplayed the threat of the virus, has remained defiant in the face of public health experts who have increasingly voiced the need to implement strict coronavirus curbs to address the crisis.

More than 336,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Brazil so far, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, and projections show that fatalities will continue to climb if nothing is done to stem the spread of the virus.

Workers exhuming old graves to create more space in the cemetery [File: Amanda Perobelli/Reuters]

On Wednesday, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said Brazil was among the countries registering some of the highest numbers of new daily COVID-19 cases in the world. The Brazilian Health Ministry reported 92,625 new infections on Wednesday.

“Over the last week, the United States, Brazil and Argentina were among the 10 countries in the world registering the highest number of new infections worldwide,” Carissa Etienne said during a weekly news briefing.

Meanwhile, authorities reported Brazil’s first confirmed case of the South African variant of the coronavirus on Wednesday, fuelling added concerns about the country’s ability to cope with surging infections.

A variant first discovered in Brazil’s Amazonas state, known as P1, and the South African variant are believed to be more easily transmissible than the original strain of the novel coronavirus.

“It could be a huge duel,” Maria Carolina Sabbaga, a research coordinator at Brazil’s Butantan biomedical institute, told the Reuters news agency, about the two variants.

“I think P.1 has already taken over. I’m not sure if the South African will overtake P.1, let’s see,” Sabbaga said.

Brazil rolled out its vaccination campaign in January, but so far only 8 percent of the population has been immunised amid limited supplies of doses.

Brazil has so far sourced vaccines from AstraZeneca and China’s Sinovac.

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, on Wednesday said it would begin opening about 600 new graves a day amid the surge in coronavirus fatalities, well beyond the record of 426 daily burials on March 30, Reuters reported.

The city is also preparing plans for a “vertical cemetery” – a crypt with 26,000 drawer-like graves that can be built in 90 days once approved.

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