Brazil currently accounts for one-quarter of the entire world’s daily COVID-19 deaths, far more than any other single nation, and health experts are warning that the nation is on the verge of even greater calamity.

The nation’s seven-day average of 2,400 deaths stands to reach 3,000 within weeks, experts told The Associated Press. That’s nearly the worst level seen by the US, though Brazil has two-thirds of its population. Spikes of daily deaths could soon hit 4,000.

There is growing recognition among Brazil's leaders that shutdowns are no longer avoidable. Restrictions on activity implemented by authorities last year were half-hearted and consistently sabotaged by President Jair Bolsonaro who sought to stave off economic doom. He remains unconvinced of any need for the clampdown, which leaves local leaders pursuing a patchwork of measures to prevent the death toll from spiraling further.

Related discussion: Coronavirus vaccine acceptance and public attitudes

Officials in the nation's two largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, are begging the population to stay home, but thousands of Brazilians are traveling to coastal cities and ignoring recommendations on the first weekend of a 10-day holiday period decreed to contain the increase of COVID-19 infections in the country.

The health system is already buckling with almost all states’ intensive care units near or at capacity. On Sunday, 92.6% of ICU beds were occupied in São Paulo, while Rio state had an occupancy of 92%.

Related discussion: Variants, vaccines and the coronavirus pandemic

As part of The World's regular series of conversations about the pandemic, reporter Elana Gordon moderated a discussion with Marcia Castro, chair of the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The AP contributed to this report. 

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