Brazil states tighten COVID restrictions as virus ragesFriday, February 26, 2021
SAO PAULO, Brazil (AFP)— Brazilian cities and states have been imposing a new round of restrictions in a bid to contain a surge of COVID-19 cases threatening to overwhelm their already stretched hospitals.
Brazil, whose death toll passed 250,000 Thursday, is struggling to deal with a rising tide of infections that has pushed intensive care units close to the brink in a worrying number of flashpoints.
The country continues to have a piecemeal response to the new coronavirus, with individual cities and states setting their own policies in the face of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's repeated attacks on restrictive measures and face masks.
Sao Paulo state, population 40 million, this week ordered bars and restaurants to close at 8:00 pm. Several cities have also imposed curfews.
The southeastern state of Parana closed non-essential businesses and imposed an 8:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew from Friday.
Nearby Rio Grande do Sul adopted the same measure, starting Monday.
The capital, Brasilia, has ordered schools and all non-essential businesses closed from Sunday.
The northeastern state of Bahia meanwhile closed non-essential retail stores.
"Our health system is about to collapse," Bahia Governor Rui Costa said Thursday.
"Brazil is going to be mired in chaos in two weeks. The problem is getting worse across the country.... We've never had a situation like this."
Brazil registered its highest weekly death toll of the pandemic Friday: an average of 1,153 deaths per day.
Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said the "new phase" was the result of new, more-contagious virus variants, such as the one that emerged in the Amazon rainforest city of Manaus.
Experts say the issue goes beyond that.
"The problem isn't the new variant, it's that there's no pandemic control program," epidemiologist Jose Urbaez told AFP.
Brazil began vaccinating its 212 million people in mid-January, but is far off-pace to meet Pazuello's pledge of immunizing the entire country by the end of the year.
Bolsonaro appeared unconcerned by the latest surge.
He shook hands with a crowd of supporters, with no face mask, during a visit to the northeastern state of Ceara Friday.
The day before, he renewed his attacks on masks, insisting they cause "side effects."
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