Jair Bolsonaro says 'tail end' of pandemic in sight for Brazil

President Jair Bolsonaro has said the end of the pandemic was in sight for Brazil, despite a worsening second wave of infections, with daily case numbers back to mid-August levels.

“We’re at the tail end of the pandemic. Compared to other countries in the world, our government was the best, or one of the best, in handling it,” the far-right president said on a visit to the southern city of Porto Alegre.

Also see: Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro and his ‘non-normal’ antics

Brazil has the world’s second-deadliest outbreak of the novel coronavirus after the United States, with more than 178,000 deaths. The continent-sized country, with a population of 212 million, has registered 6.7 million confirmed cases.

The comment came in for criticism from his opponents in Brazil. The government’s own figures lend little support to the president’s assessment.

Brazil, which endured a brutal plateau of more than 1,000 deaths a day from June to August, had succeeded in bringing its average daily death toll down to about 300 last month. However, that number has again risen above 800 this week.

Also read: Journalists are ‘wimps’; more likely to die of coronavirus, says Brazil’s Bolsonaro

Intensive care units at public hospitals in Rio de Janeiro are meanwhile 100 percent full, and preparations for an eventual vaccination campaign have been caught up in a political battle between Bolsonaro and a likely adversary in the 2022 presidential race, Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria.

Bolsonaro has been at odds with health experts over how to respond to the pandemic.

He has downplayed the new coronavirus as a “little flu,” condemned the “hysteria” around it, and pushed to use the drug hydroxychloroquine against , despite a raft of studies showing it is ineffective.

Political tensions

Doses of a COVID-19 vaccine made by China’s Sinovac Biotech are rolling off a Brazilian production line, drawing interest around the country and across Latin America from governments struggling to procure costlier vaccines.

Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria said at a news conference on Thursday (December 10) that the state’s biomedical centre, the Butantan Institute, aims to fill and finish 1 million doses per day on its production line for a vaccination campaign to start Jan. 25.

Doria said 11 Brazilian states have contacted Butantan seeking the doses of the vaccine, called CoronaVac, setting up a showdown with President Jair Bolsonaro, who has said he refuses to buy the Chinese vaccine for a national immunization program.

At the same news conference, Butantan head Dimas Covas said several countries in the region, including Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay and Honduras are interested in buying the CoronaVac vaccine from Brazil. Butantan is in advanced talks with Argentina to the supply vaccine, he said.

Dimas said CoronaVac doses would cost $10.30 to Brazilian states and cities outside of Sao Paulo, a fraction of what U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies are charging for COVID-19 vaccines.

Butantan has begun to build a facility where it plans to produce the vaccine from scratch as of September 2021 instead of receiving it in bulk from China to fill and label vials.

Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello has said that vaccinations could begin in January. Pressure has been mounting, with state governors criticising the federal government as unprepared for a mass immunisation campaign and failing to secure a diverse enough supply of vaccines.

Pazuello repeated the ministry would buy any effective vaccines that are approved by health regulator Anvisa and reasonably priced, opening the door to a federal purchase of the Chinese vaccine.

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