In Brazil, the pandemic is coming to a head: intensive care units are overloaded in most states, and the numbers of new infections and deaths are reaching record levels. There is little prospect of this changing in the coming weeks. Due to the government’s crisis management, the Real is now also coming under massive pressure.
by Alexander Busch, Latin America correspondent for Handelsblatt and Neue Zürcher Zeitung
It is as if the second and third waves of the pandemic are rolling toward Brazil together. The number of infected people will soon reach the eleven million mark, with almost 60,000 new infections per day. This puts Brazil behind some European countries, such as France and Sweden, in terms of infection rates, with 682 new infections per million inhabitants. But in Brazil, the rate of infections is now increasing very rapidly: In two weeks, it has increased by more than 20 percent.
The Brazilian healthcare system is increasingly reaching its limits. Both in private and public hospitals, intensive care units are more than 80 percent occupied in 19 of 27 states. In Brazil, there are just two hospital beds per 1000 inhabitants. In Germany, the figure is four times higher. With the latest figure of 1726 deaths per day, Brazil has even surpassed the USA for the first time and is now still in second place worldwide with 260,000 corona victims.
As the number of daily infections continues to rise, more and more states are imposing lockdowns. Governments do not have much choice. On the one hand, the vaccination campaigns have started successfully. 7 million people have already been vaccinated, or 3.3 percent of the population. But the supply of vaccines is stagnating, and vaccinations continue to be hesitant.
At the same time, the Brazilian government has not yet presented a national strategic plan for combating the pandemic. The purchase of vaccines is proceeding slowly and with little transparency. Experts are skeptical that the vaccine quantities now announced by the health minister for the coming months will actually be available.
Meanwhile, it appears that the Ministry of Health and Amazonas state authorities are partly responsible for the rapid spread of new variants of the Corona virus, such as P1, throughout Brazil. Because of a lack of oxygen in the Amazon capital, some 500 patients were distributed from there to hospitals throughout Brazil in January without tightened isolations. In addition, traffic from the Amazon city is not controlled. Renowned epidemiologists thus explain the rapid spread of the new variants even in far-flung southern Brazil.
According to an assessment by the Bank for International Settlements, investors are now responding directly to chaotic pandemic management like that in Brazil. The Basel-based bank has compared the exchange rate impact of high rates of infection growth in countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Colombia with those in Asian countries that have been more successful in containing the pandemic. In this context, weak currencies correlate with weak crisis management in the pandemic. South American central banks are now facing the difficult situation of having to raise interest rates soon because of the weak currencies and the resulting rise in inflation – before the economies have started to grow again, however.
Brazilians currently have no choice but to hope that the federal government will quickly reach agreement with states, municipalities, and possibly in the future, companies, on a common strategy for immunizing the population.
COVID-19 in Latin America
Development of case numbers in the region
Currently reported cases in the countries
COVID-19 vaccine doses administered
Vaccine doses administered by country