Brazil posts record single-day toll of 3,251 virus deaths

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Military policemen receive with full honors the arrival of the coffin that contains the remains of Sgt. Jorge Luis Pereira da Silva, 54, who died from COVID-19, at the Campo da Esperanca cemetery in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. The nation had an average of 2,235 deaths a day last week the highest since the beginning of the pandemic. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil reported more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day for the first time Tuesday amid calls for the government and the new health minister to take action to stem the nation’s resurgence of coronavirus infections.

In recent weeks, Latin America’s largest country has become the pandemic’s global epicenter, with more deaths from the virus each day than in any other nation. Tuesday’s record toll of 3,251 deaths was driven by the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous, which recorded 1,021 new deaths, far above the previous high of 713 last July.

The pandemic has brought the health systems of Brazilian states to near collapse, with hospitals watching their ICU beds fill up and stocks of oxygen required for assisted breathing dwindle. Most of the states in recent days adopted measures to restrict activity, over the fierce resistance of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

In a 4-minute presidential address on TV and radio, Bolsonaro did not comment on the new record and said Brazilians will “very soon return to normal life.”

“We will make 2021 the year of the vaccination of Brazilians,” Bolsonaro said, as pot=banging protests against his government erupted in major cities. “That is the mission and we will accomplish it.”

Bolsonaro has consistently downplayed the severity of the pandemic, insisting the economy must be kept humming to prevent worse hardship, and he has criticized health measures imposed by local leaders. On Friday, he appealed to the Supreme Court to invalidate curfews enacted by two states and Brazil’s federal district, though the top court previously ruled that governors and mayors have the power to adopt such restrictions.

Public health experts and economists have said Bolsonaro is presenting a false choice between preserving health and economic well-being.

On Tuesday, cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga was sworn in as health minister, becoming the fourth person to occupy the post since the beginning of the health crisis. He replaced active-duty army Gen. Eduardo Pazuello.