SAO PAULO, Brazil: Over half a million Brazilians have now died after contracting COVID-19, it was reported on Saturday.

Brazil has, to date, suffered the world’s second-deadliest outbreak of Covid, and it may worsen, warns experts.

As Covid spread in Brazil, the government delayed vaccinations and refused to order social distancing measures.

As of Saturday, only 11 percent of Brazilians have been fully vaccinated.

Brazil has now reported 500,800 deaths from 17,883,750 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the nation’s Health Ministry data on Saturday, which remains the highest death toll outside the United States.

In the past week, Brazil has averaged 2,000 deaths per day.

Further, it is feared that the toll in Brazil, now the highest in Latin America, might still worsen.

“I think we are going to reach 700,000 or 800,000 deaths before we get to see the effects of vaccinations,” said Gonzalo Vecina, former head of Brazilian health regulator Anvisa, predicting a near-term acceleration in fatalities, as quoted by Reuters.

“We are experiencing the arrival of these new variants and the Indian variant will send us for a loop.”

Vecina criticized President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic, saying there has been no coordinated national response. Also, Bolsonaro has remained skeptical about vaccines, lockdowns and wearing face masks.

On Saturday, thousands of Brazilians protested against Bolsonaro and his management of the pandemic in nationwide demonstrations.

“We are still in an extremely critical situation, with very high transmission rates and hospital bed occupancy that is still critical in many places,” said Raphael Guimaraes, a researcher at Brazilian biomedical center Fiocruz, as reported by Reuters.

This week, Brazil reported new cases of Covid in Brazil increasing to over 70,000 per day, which is greater than India had earlier suffered.

“We really need to increase vaccinations very quickly,” said Ester Sabino, an epidemiologist at the University of Sao Paulo, as quoted in Reuters.