People walk along a commercial street after it reopened, in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil
People walk along a commercial street after it reopened, in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil
PIC: AFP

Brasilia: The official COVID-19 death toll in Brazil is about to hit 500,000, the second highest in the world behind the United States.

Official data showed some 2,000 COVID-19 deaths per day in Brazil in the past week, representing one-fifth the global total. Only 11 per cent of Brazil's population is fully vaccinated.

Brazil's Senate is investigating how the toll got so high, focusing on why President Jair Bolsonaro's far-right government ignored opportunities to buy vaccines for months while it relentlessly pushed hydroxychloroquine.

That's a malaria drug that rigorous studies have shown to be ineffective in treating COVID-19.

The nationally televised hearings have contained scientific claims, counterclaims and outright falsehoods.

The skepticism has extended to the death toll itself, with Bolsonaro arguing the official tally from his own Health Ministry is greatly exaggerated.

However, some epidemiologists saying the real death number is significantly higher - perhaps hundreds of thousands higher.

Bolsonaro has waged a 15-month campaign to downplay the coronavirus and keep the economy humming. He dismissed the scourge early on as "a little flu" and scorned masks. He tested positive for COVID-19 last year.

The U.S. recently surpassed 600,000 confirmed deaths.

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