Brazil was set on Friday to become the second country in the world to pass 600,000 COVID-19 deaths, a dark milestone for a government that has been sharply criticized by health experts for mismanaging the pandemic.

The country has ramped up vaccinations after a slow start, however, and there are signs infections are finally ebbing.

More than 70 per cent of Brazilians have received a first dose, compared to 65 per cent in the United States, which passed 600,000 deaths in June.

“The rejection rate of vaccines is really low, it makes other countries jealous,” said Alexandre Naime Barbosa, head of epidemiology at Sao Paulo State University. “That’s really important for Brazil to contain the pandemic.”

An activist hangs a Brazilian flag on a clothesline on Copacabana beach amid white scarves that represent people who have died of COVID-19 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday. The action was organized by the non-governmental organization ‘Rio de Paz’ to protest the government’s handling of the pandemic. (Bruna Prado/The Associated Press)

Cases falling

Brazil also appears to have been spared the worst of the delta variant so far, with registered deaths and cases falling despite the arrival of the more contagious strain.

Deaths are down 80 per cent from their peak of more than 3,000 per day in April, and Brazil no longer has one of the world’s highest daily death tolls.

The Health Ministry registered 451 new COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, taking the total to 599,810 since the pandemic began.

Health experts speculate the early devastating effects in Brazil of the gamma variant — also called P1 — may have tempered the course of the delta variant, which caused cases elsewhere to spike significantly.

“The enormous cost of lives we had with gamma resulted in a portion of the population with partial immunity when delta spread,” said virologist Fernando Spilki of Feevale University in the state of Rio Grande do Sul.

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