Brazil faces its most severe Covid-19 surge since the pandemic began, with more daily infections and deaths than any other country in recent days, because of what some health officials are blaming on a coronavirus variant that has spread rapidly in Brazil, and reached other countries like the United States. 

Key Facts

The Brazilian government reported 2,216 Covid-19 deaths Friday, and it posted a record 2,286 deaths on Wednesday, eclipsing the United States as the country with the world’s worst daily death count — last month, Brazil’s daily deaths almost never exceeded 1,500.

Infections in Brazil have also been on the rise for weeks, logging 85,663 new cases on Friday, the country’s second worst jump in infections since the start of the pandemic.

This surge has strained the country’s health system: Hospital intensive care units are above 90% capacity in most of Brazil’s state capital cities, a situation the Fiocruz public health institute described as a “situation of collapse” on Friday.

Public health experts have pinned some blame for the surge on a more contagious coronavirus variant that emerged in western Brazil in January and has become pervasive across much of the country in recent weeks.

Fiocruz is pleading with Brazilians to stem the virus’ spread by socially distancing and wearing masks, but far-right President Jair Bolsonaro rolled his eyes at these concerns, telling people “enough fussing and whining” in a speech last week.

Big Number

275,105. That’s how many people have died from the coronavirus in Brazil since the pandemic started. The country has the world’s second-worst overall death toll, after the United States, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Key Background

Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak has been among the world’s most severe for months. Experts in the country are especially worried about the new variant, which some research suggests is not only more contagious, but also has the potential to reinfect people who caught an earlier form of the virus. Some Brazilian cities have tried to enforce social distancing measures, but their effectiveness has been blunted by Bolsonaro’s open contempt: Last November, he denigrated people afraid of the virus as “sissies.” Meanwhile, about 8.5 million Brazilians — or 4% of the population — have received at least one vaccine dose, a rate that lags far behind the United States, Europe and Chile but is roughly in line with most other Central and South American countries.

Surprising Fact

Brazil’s variant has been spotted in several U.S. states, the United Kingdom and neighboring South American countries.


Brazil isn’t the only country to deal with a variant-fueled coronavirus outbreak. Cases are spiking in Italy, Poland and other parts of Europe, partly due to a more contagious variant first identified in the United Kingdom late last year, and another highly transmissible coronavirus variant was found in South Africa.

What We Don’t Know

Researchers are monitoring whether coronavirus vaccines maintain their effectiveness against these new variants. Some early data indicates vaccines hold up well against the United Kingdom variant, but some vaccines’ effectiveness could be blunted by the South Africa and Brazil strains, though they still offer some protection.

Further Reading

Brazil, Hit by Covid-19 Variant, Surpasses U.S. in Daily Cases and Deaths (Wall Street Journal)

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