Brazil is facing a 'biological Fukushima' and is seeing new Covid variants every week, one of the country's leading health experts has warned.
A daily record of 4,195 deaths were registered on Tuesday, with the latest projections putting Brazil on track for 600,000 fatalities by July.
Miguel Nicolelis, who was until February leading the Covid response team for the northeast region of 60 million people, said Jair Bolsonaro is presiding over 'the largest human tragedy in Brazilian history.'
'It’s a nuclear reactor that has set off a chain reaction and is out of control. It’s a biological Fukushima,' Nicolelis said today, referencing the Japanese nuclear disaster triggered by a tsunami in 2011.
He told the BBC: 'I think that Brazil is not just the epicentre of the pandemic worldwide, it is a threat to the entire effort of the international community to control the pandemic on the planet.
'If Brazil is not under control the planet is not going to be under control.
'We are brewing new variants every week and some of these are more infectious, more lethal and some of them are going to cross the borders to other countries in South America, Latin America and eventually the whole world.'
The country of 212 million people has registered an average of 2,757 Covid-19 deaths per day over the past week, the highest by far worldwide.
It has recorded 160 deaths per 100,000 people, behind countries such as the Czech Republic (254) and Britain (187) but still one of the 10 highest rates in the world.
Intensive care units are currently more than 90 percent full in 18 of Brazil's 27 states, according to public health institute Fiocruz. All but two of the rest are in the 'critical alert zone' of more than 80 percent occupancy, it said.
Experts say the surge is partly caused by a local variant of the virus known as P1 that can re-infect people who have had the original strain and is believed to be more contagious.
The government has meanwhile struggled to secure enough vaccines, at times forcing authorities to suspend immunization drives in some areas.
Rafucko, a Brazilian activist, walks the streets of Berlin every night dressed as the Death to draw attention to Brazil's COVID-19 strategy and its connection to the environment. pic.twitter.com/sdauvElY7F— DW News (@dwnews) April 5, 2021
Nicolelis laid the blame squarely on Bolsonaro who is facing a political crisis which last Tuesday saw the three heads of the army, navy and the air force all resign.
The Duke University professor, who lives in Sao Paulo, believes that the country is on track for around 500,000 deaths by July 1, but warned that if the rate of transmission increases by just 10 per cent, this figure could rise to 600,000.
The professor said: 'The president of Brazil denied the severity and the gravity of the crisis since the beginning and from that point on, from February, 2020, he basically undermined any major national initiative to get the pandemic under control.
'From the beginning he didn't want to impose social isolation, lockdowns, didn't want to close the Brazilian airspace, was against the use of masks and a few months ago he basically blocked the minister of health for procuring the number of vaccines that Brazil would need to take care of about 210 million people.
'So his actions created complete chaos in the country, it's a complete calamity, it's the largest human tragedy in Brazilian history and his message was that this is something that is not important and that people should go about there lives as they used to do.'
Brazil's health system is buckling under the strain of the latest virus wave, which has forced doctors into agonising decisions over which patients to give life-saving care and led cemeteries to hold nighttime burials to deal with the crush of coffins.
'We're in a dreadful situation, and we're not seeing effective measures by either state or federal governments' to respond, said epidemiologist Ethel Maciel of Espirito Santo Federal University.
'At the rate we're vaccinating - 10 percent of the population (with a first dose) so far - the only way to slow the extremely fast spread of the virus is an effective lockdown for at least 20 days,' she told AFP.
'Unfortunately, politics has brought us where we are today: This enormous number of people who have lost their lives. Very sad.'
The health crisis has turned political for Bolsonaro, who flouted expert advice on containing the pandemic and now faces mounting pressure - including from allies in Congress and the business sector - to bring the situation under control.
Now on his fourth health minister of the pandemic, the far-right president overhauled much of his government last week, replacing his foreign, justice and defense ministers and naming new army, navy and air force commanders.
The move has raised concerns the president is digging in for political turmoil as he gears up to seek re-election next year.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.