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the coronavirus crisis

Brazil's COVID-19 death toll tops 250,000, as virus continues to spread uncontrollably

In Brazil, where the coronavirus is spreading uncontrollably, the COVID-19 death toll surpassed 250,000 on Thursday evening.

There have been 251,498 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Brazil since the pandemic began a year ago, the country's Health Ministry said. This is the world's second-highest death toll, after the United States. Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's right-wing president, has criticized efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, slamming lockdowns, ignoring social distancing measures, and taunting people who wear masks.

Every day over the last two weeks, Brazil has averaged more than 1,000 daily deaths — the highest numbers since July. Christovam Barcellos of the Fiocruz research institution told Reuters Brazil is experiencing a "second plateau. It's not a second wave, because we've been over five weeks with 1,000 deaths per day."

The new coronavirus variant first found in Amazonas state that is believed to be more contagious has now been detected in at least 17 Brazilian states. Public health experts have been calling on Brazilian mayors and governors to impose lockdowns to keep the variant from spreading far and wide, but the measures that are being implemented, like nighttime curfews, won't do nearly enough.

"Right now, Brazil is the largest open-air laboratory, where it is possible to observe the natural dynamics of the coronavirus without any effective containment measure," neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis tweeted on Tuesday. "Everyone will witness the epic devastation." Last month, he warned that if Brazil did not enter a lockdown to limit travel and gatherings, "we won't be able to bury our dead in 2021."

Vaccination efforts are now underway, but are off to a slow start. More than 210 million people live in Brazil, and the country has only secured 16 million doses and distributed about half. Brazil is using the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd., which researchers say is effective against COVID-19 variants first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa. Tests are now underway to see if it works on the Amazonas variant.