SAO PAULO – The COVID-19 epidemic began to show timid signs of slowing down in Brazil, after a drop in the average number of deaths for the first time, although experts urged caution against the relaxation of social distancing measures and crowding of beaches.
With more than 4.1 million cases and 126,650 deaths, Brazil, the world’s second worst affected country by the COVID-19 crisis in numbers, began to see a slight downward curve, although experts agreed that it was too early to talk about a consolidated improvement in a country with more than 210 million population.
“For the first time when we see the data in a general way, there is a drop in the statistics. However, we have to look at it very carefully,” Mirian Dal Ben, infectologist and epidemiologist at Hospital Sirio-Libanes told EFE.
The moving average of new COVID-19 deaths in Brazil in the last seven days was just over 800, representing a decline of 17 percent compared to the previous two weeks, according to data collected by a consortium of Brazilian media outlets that gathers daily information from the regional secretaries of health.
Since Aug. 12, the moving average of deaths has been under 1,000, while since Aug. 28 it has been below 900, data that suggests that Brazil may have started a downward trend after months stuck at a high plateau.
According to data from the consortium, only three of the 27 Brazilian states are experiencing an upward trend in the number of deaths – Tocantins, Ceara and Amazonas – while in the rest of the states, the epidemic remains stable or down.
As for Sao Paulo, the most populous state in Brazil and which for months was the epicenter of the epidemic, recorded its fourth consecutive week with a drop in the number of deaths, an unusual event since the arrival of the virus in the country.
Despite the decrease in deaths throughout the country, the moving average of cases in the last seven days registered a slight rise of 3 percent, although according to a study published this week by Imperial College London, the effective reproduction number in Brazil is now less than 1, the level necessary for new infections to be reduced.
Despite the slight improvement in the indicators, the authorities have asked citizens not to lower their guard, especially during the long Independence Day weekend, which is celebrated on Monday.
The long weekend and the good weather led people to flock to bars in various state capitals of the country, while the beaches of the Brazilian coast were full despite police reinforcement in order to prevent crowds seen in recent days on various beaches of the country.
The most iconic beaches of Rio de Janeiro, such as Copacabana and Ipanema, as well as those on the Sao Paulo coast, received tourists from all over the country as sand became a sea of umbrellas. In Jericoacoara, a paradisaical resort town in the northeast of Brazil, hotel occupancy was 100 percent.
Specialists fear that the relaxation of social distancing measures will intensify with the arrival of good weather, leading to a rebound in cases and deaths when the country has not yet left the first wave behind.
“In Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, we have seen a very large drop in social isolation. The beaches are full and that will be reflected in the data for the next 14 days,” the doctor warned.
Brazil began a gradual de-escalation in early June, after about two and a half months of soft quarantine and with cases still on the rise, but the gradual reopening of the economy has accelerated in recent weeks amid the stabilization of the crisis.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has from the beginning of the epidemic been one of the main advocates asking for the end of social distancing, a position that led him to clash with some governors and former allies, such as Joao Doria, the governor of Sao Paulo.
The leader of the Brazilian far right has on countless occasions undermined the seriousness of the COVID-19, which he has also been infected with, and encouraged citizens to take to the streets and keep the economy afloat, even in the most critical phases of the epidemic.
“Let’s hope the country returns to normal. I’m not saying it will be fast, because it can’t be. But it will not be late either,” he stressed a day earlier.
According to the Ministry of Health, Brazil’s registered cases of COVID-19 reached 4,137,521, adding 14,521 in the last 24 hours, while the number of people who have recovered from the disease reached 3,317,227.