(Brasilia) Brazil passed the milestone of 700,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, three years after the first death from the pandemic that would make the Latin American country the second most bereaved state in the world, announced the Ministry of Health.

The first death in Brazil, that of a 50-year-old from Sao Paulo (southeast), occurred on March 12, 2020, marking the start of a long health crisis that would overwhelm hospitals, morgues and cemeteries in the country.

Only the United States has recorded a worse death toll, with 1.1 million deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The epidemic has claimed at least 6.8 million lives worldwide.

The management of the COVID-19 crisis in Brazil has been marked by a large number of controversies between scientific circles in particular and the former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.

He has long called COVID-19 a “flu,” advocated ineffective treatments, and opposed vaccinations. He refused to confine the population in the name of preserving the first economy in Latin America, while multiplying crowd baths, most often without a mask.

His successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, called Bolsonaro “genocidal” and advocated the use of the vaccine, of which he himself received a 5th dose in front of the cameras last February.

“The vaccine which is freely available in all health units could have changed the lives of families who lost loved ones during the pandemic,” the health ministry said in a statement.