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Covid-19 is now the deadliest event in recent Brazilian history

. Jun 21, 2020
Covid-19 is now the deadliest event in recent Brazilian history Photo: Photocarioca/Shutterstock

This week, Brazil passed the mark of 50,000 coronavirus deaths — to go along with over 1 million infections. Covid-19, described as a “little flu” by President Jair Bolsonaro, has claimed — in just 90 days — more Brazilian lives than any other event in recent Brazilian history. 

The Spanish Flu killed 35,000 Brazilians a century ago. Meanwhile, epidemics such as HIV-AIDS killed 48,000 people in the country. The coronavirus death count has even surpassed that of the War of the Triple Alliance, the bloodiest conflict in Brazilian history — which killed 50,000 Brazilians between 1864 and 1870.

Excluding the horrors of colonization and slavery, whose true death totals we will never accurately know, Covid-19 is now the deadliest single event in Brazilian history.

To further compound this tragedy, nearly all experts say the real numbers of infections and deaths are significantly higher than the official figures due to a lack of testing, and to the fact that several Brazilian states are trying to hide their numbers. Furthermore, the worst-hit cities in the country are reopening for business. 

The sheer extent of this tragedy was avoidable, though. Even if managing such a crisis in a country as vast and unequal as Brazil would be extremely difficult, the Jair Bolsonaro administration did almost everything in its power to make things worse. The president threw out the guidelines set by his own Health Ministry and got rid of two Health Ministers (the department is still being managed on an interim basis by an Army general with no background in medicine). Mr. Bolsonaro also incited revolt against stay-home orders, and promoted unproven drugs as “possible cures.”

Worldwide, Covid-19 has now killed more than 462,000 people and infected over 8.6 million. The crisis, however, still has no end in sight. 

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Benjamin Fogel

Benjamin Fogel is a Ph.D. candidate in Latin American History at New York University and a Contributing Editor to Jacobin Magazine.

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