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Brazil Thought Its COVID Crisis Was Ending. It Was Wrong — And Things May Be Even Worse.

Brazilians crowd Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro this fall without masks or social distancing.

A couple months ago Brazil's coronavirus curve began to flatten. But it's spiking again — just as Brazilians are being far less vigilant than before.

Even though Brazil’s president scoffs at COVID-19 as a “hoax,’ it looked this fall as if the country’s alarming pandemic numbers were stabilizing. But the virus is suddenly back in Brazil — and the surge now could be even worse.

Brazil has recorded the world’s second-highest number of COVID-19 deaths, behind the U.S. — and the third most coronavirus cases. That’s not surprising, given President Jair Bolsonaro’s fierce denial of the pandemic (despite being infected himself over the summer) and his controversial efforts to block mask-wearing and social distancing.

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So it was surprising when Brazil’s COVID-19 curve began to flatten recently. In August, Brazil had averaged 39,000 new cases a day — but in October the daily average was just 22,000.

That was even more encouraging since the country was entering the southern hemisphere’s summer, when Brazilians are outside more and presumably less vulnerable to COVID transmission.

But those brief hopes have all but vanished.

Last month cases began spiking again and this month’s average of new daily COVID cases is up 54 percent from October — to 34,000. Daily COVID deaths are up again sharply as well, above 500 a day on average so far this month — and reaching a total of 177,400 as of Tuesday, second only to the U.S.'s 286,000 COVID fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Scientists fear the new outbreak will be even worse because Brazilians are being far less vigilant than before. Beachgoers and café visitors are gathering in carefree crowds again, and rarely wearing masks.