EFEBy Carlos Meneses Sanchez Sao Paulo, Brazil

Brazil surpassed 400,000 Covid-19 deaths on Thursday with hospitals in a "critical" situation and the country at risk of suffering a third pandemic wave, despite the slight deceleration in the spread of the coronavirus over the past two weeks.

The country registered its first Covid-19 death on March 12, 2020, and in a little more than 14 months the death toll has climbed to 401,186, almost 13 percent of the world total, although Brazil has only 3 percent of the planet's population.

Only the United States, with about 570,000 Covid-19 deaths, exceeds Brazil in that dire statistic but the South American giant is far ahead of Mexico (215,000) and India (205,000) and has become the the current epicenter of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization.

On Thursday, Brazil's Health Ministry reported 69,389 positive test results and 3,001 deaths from Covid-19 in the past 24 hours. The most recent 100,000 pandemic fatalities have died in just the past 36 days.

It is a tragedy of unprecedented proportions in the recent history of Brazil, which is headed by ultrarightist President Jair Bolsonaro, who continues to deny the seriousness of the virus and is actively campaining against the health measures adopted by local governments.

Over the first four months of this year, more people have died than the 194,949 who lost their lives to Covid in all of 2020, and the number of cases has almost doubled from 7.7 million at the end of last year to 14.6 million today.

Behind this second wave is the spread of more infectious variants of the coronavirus, including two that arose in Brazil, the easing of restrictions and social exhaustion with the lockdown and other measures.

Although the infection and death rates fell slightly over the past two weeks, the numbers continue to be quite high.

In the past seven days, Brazil has reported an average of 60,400 new cases each day along with 2,500 deaths. The maximum daily death toll, reached on April 8, has been 4,249.

Eleven of the 27 Brazilian states are showing intensive care unit occupancy rates above 90 percent and another 10 have rates exceeding 80 percent.

In addition, the lack of medications, including sedatives and analgesics, vital for keeping the more seriously ill patients intubated is still a problem in some places, leading the government to ask for international help.

Regional and municipal administrations have taken advantage of that slight improvement in the statistics to begin easing the restrictions that they imposed in March and April.

According to epidemiological experts consulted by EFE, that reopening combined with the rapid spread of the virus could lead to a third wave in June and July.

"The risk of a third wave exists. We're in an extreme situation," warned Alexandre Naime, the head of infectious diseases at the State University of Sao Paulo (Unesp) and a consultant for the Brazilian Infectology Society (SBI).

"If the public trivializes the flexibilization rules, if they don't use a facemask and don't respect (social) distancing, we're going to have a new spike that's even greater than what we had," he said.

In the political sphere, the members of the Senate commission to investigate possible "omissions" by the Bolsonaro government in pandemic management agreed on Thursday that next week they will call Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga and his three predecessors in the post to testify.

The first two health ministers, Doctors Luiz Henrique Mandetta and Nelson Teich, left the government last year because of serious disagreements with Bolsonaro regarding the management of the health emergency.

The president has insisted on calling Covid-19 a "little flu" and has said that the lockdowns are "absurd" and "cowardly" because - he claims - they create hunger by preventing people from earning a living and "kill more people than the virus."

EFE