Brazil’s battle with the coronavirus continues to careen in the wrong direction as the country, on Tuesday, set a new record in daily fatalities, topping 4,000 recorded deaths in a 24-hour span. With a new, more contagious local variant on the loose and lackadaisical national leadership under President Jair Bolsonaro, the country is lining up to surpass the U.S. death total with just two-thirds of the population. The growing calamity of the uncontrolled outbreak was made stark Tuesday when the country’s ministry of health tallied a record 4,195 COVID-19 deaths, after setting new daily highs in fatalities each week since last February.
The virus has already claimed 337,000 lives in Brazil, making the South American nation second only to the U.S. globally in recorded cases and deaths. As infection and death rates in the U.S. have started to fall, however, Brazil is now the epicenter of the pandemic and contributes roughly one out of every four coronavirus deaths worldwide, according to a Reuters analysis. “It’s a biological Fukushima,” Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian doctor and professor at Duke University, told Reuters. “It’s a nuclear reactor that has set off a chain reaction and is out of control.”
Meanwhile, Brazil’s health care system is already maxed out as Bolsonaro has long shrugged off any efforts to contain the virus, including social distancing and mask-wearing, implying, like his ideological buddy Donald Trump, that the virus is a media invention. “They called me homophobic, racist, fascist, a torturer, and now … what is it now? Now I am … someone who kills a lot of people? Genocidal. Now, I’m genocidal,” Bolsonaro sarcastically told supporters outside the Presidential Palace in Brasilia Tuesday evening. “What am I not blamed for here in Brazil?” Bolsonaro has been in office since Jan. 1, 2019, the entirety of the pandemic.*
In public, Bolsonaro’s government continues to downplay the human and economic impact of the latest surge, and the president had criticized vaccination as a solution, stunting the country’s vaccination program from the start.
Correction, April 7, 2021: This post originally misstated that Bolsonaro took office on Jan. 1, 2020. He assumed the presidency on Jan. 1, 2019.