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A Collapse Foretold: How Brazil’s COVID-19 Outbreak Overwhelmed Hospitals

More than a year into the pandemic, deaths in Brazil are at their peak and highly contagious variants of the coronavirus are sweeping the nation, enabled by political dysfunction, widespread complacency and conspiracy theories. The country, whose leader, President Jair Bolsonaro, has played down the threat of the virus, is now reporting more new cases and deaths per day than any other country in the world.

March 27, 2021 / 10:53 PM IST
Volunteers fill a tank as they disinfect the alleys of Santa Marta slum during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Representative image: Reuters)

Volunteers fill a tank as they disinfect the alleys of Santa Marta slum during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Representative image: Reuters)

The patients began arriving at hospitals in Porto Alegre far sicker and younger than before. Funeral homes were experiencing a steady uptick in business, while exhausted doctors and nurses pleaded in February for a lockdown to save lives.

But Sebastião Melo, Porto Alegre’s mayor, argued there was a greater imperative.

“Put your life on the line so that we can save the economy,” Melo appealed to his constituents in late February.

Now Porto Alegre, a prosperous city in southern Brazil, is at the heart of a stunning breakdown of the country’s health care system — a crisis foretold.