COVID-19: Brazil records more than 2,000 daily deaths for first time as infections soar and hospitals 'reach the limit'

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Brazil has recorded more than 2,000 coronavirus deaths in a day for the first time as a more contagious variant spreads through the country and some hospitals near breaking point.

The health ministry said on Wednesday that 2,286 deaths had been registered in the past 24 hours - beating the record set the day before of 1,954.

Brazil has the second-highest number of COVID-related deaths in the world - more than 270,000 - but less than 5% of people have been vaccinated.

It also recorded 79,876 new cases on Wednesday, with the seven-day average of more than 69,000 the highest since the pandemic began.

Intensive care demand is beyond capacity in some regions.

In southern Santa Catarina state more than 400 people were waiting for an ICU bed, and in Rio Grande do Sul capacity was at 106%.

At least 30 people have also died this month waiting for an intensive care bed in Sao Paulo state, according to Brazilian news site G1.

"We have reached the limit across Brazil; rare are the exceptions," said the governor of Piaui state, Wellington Dias.

Mr Dias said some people may now not be able to get hospital treatment and that "the chance of dying without assistance is real".

More contagious variants - particularly the one first detected in the Amazonian city of Manaus - are believed to be fuelling the surge.

Known as P1, a few cases have also been detected in the UK.

Brazil's health minister said last month it was three times as transmissible as the original strain.

A doctor in the city of Porto Alegre said he was now seeing a constant stream of people struggling to breathe.

"I have a lot of colleagues who, at times, stop to cry.

"This isn't medicine we're used to performing routinely. This is medicine adapted for a war scenario," said Alexandre Zavascki.

Last week's total of more than 10,000 deaths was Brazil's highest ever but President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently played down the virus.

He said people should stop "whining" about the pandemic earlier this month.

However, Mr Bolsonaro wore a mask for the first time in months on Wednesday and also sanctioned a bill to make buying vaccines easier.

"We were tireless from the first moment in fighting the pandemic," he said at an event in Brasilia.

The president said Brazil would have 400 million vaccine doses by the end of the year.

So far, just over nine million of the country's 211 million people have had a first dose.

There is also concern that restrictions are not tough enough to halt the virus's spread.

The country's council of state health secretaries has called for a national curfew and lockdown in regions nearing maximum hospital capacity, but Mr Bolsonaro has refused.

"I won't decree it," he said at an event on Monday.

"And you can be sure of one thing: my army will not go to the street to oblige the people to stay home."

Political rivals have fiercely criticised him, including former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - now on the comeback trail - who called him an "imbecile" for mishandling the crisis.