As Brazil faces record Covid deaths, a variant-fueled surge and lagging vaccinations, Bolsonaro disparages masks.

By Ernesto Londoño

RIO DE JANEIRO — The daily death toll of Covid-19 in Brazil hit a record high of 1,582 on Thursday, according to a news consortium’s survey of local health departments. The painful milestone came as President Jair Bolsonaro railed against face masks, despite compelling scientific evidence that they are effective at preventing infections.

A rise in coronavirus infections in several states in Brazil, which officials say is being driven by more contagious variants, has overwhelmed hospitals across the country.

While epidemiologists and health officials warn of a worsening crisis in the weeks ahead, Mr. Bolsonaro took aim at masks during his weekly address on Facebook Thursday. Citing an unspecified German study, the president said masks were bad for children and that wearing them could lead to headaches, difficulty concentrating and a “decreased perception of happiness.”

Mr. Bolsonaro has been criticized at home and abroad for his cavalier response to the coronavirus pandemic. He has questioned the use of quarantine measures, social distancing and has sowed doubts about vaccines, saying he does not intend to get a shot.

While new cases and deaths are dropping in a number of other countries that were hard hit by the pandemic, including the United States, Brazil is in the grip of a second wave that began in November and shows no sign of easing.

The country began vaccinating medical professionals and older people last month, but the campaign is off to a slow start because the government has struggled to procure enough doses to quickly inoculate its 212 million citizens.

This week, Brazil’s Covid death toll surpassed 250,000, which is second only to the U.S. count of more than 500,000 deaths. The Brazilian health minister, Eduardo Pazuello, said on Thursday that the country had entered a “new stage of the pandemic” as a result of variants that he said are three times more contagious than earlier strains of the virus. “That is the reality we’re living today in Brazil,” he said.

Brazil Coronavirus Map and Case Count

A detailed map shows the extent of the coronavirus outbreak, with charts and tables of the number of cases and deaths.

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