RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Hundreds of Brazilian economists, including former finance ministers and central bank presidents, urged the Brazilian government in an open letter published on Monday to speed up vaccination and adopt tougher restrictions to stop the rampant spread of COVID-19.

The signatories of the letter decried the “devastating” economic and social situation in Latin America’s largest nation. They also attempted to debunk President Jair Bolsonaro’s assertion that lockdowns and restrictions would inflict greater hardship on the population than the disease.

“This recession, as well as its harmful social consequences, was caused by the pandemic and will not be overcome until the pandemic is controlled through competent action from the federal government,” the letter read. “It is urgent that the different levels of government prepare to implement an emergency lockdown.”

Brazil Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said Monday that mass vaccination had to be accelerated “to ensure a safe return to work”, especially for the most vulnerable.

Brazil’s gross domestic product contracted 4.1% in 2020, the biggest annual recession in decades. The economists said the fall in activity alone cost Brazil a loss in tax collection of 6.9%, approximately 58 billion reais ($10.5 billion).

The nation had an average of 2,235 deaths a day last week – the highest since the beginning of the pandemic. So far, nearly 295,000 people have died, the second largest tally in the world after the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Bolsonaro has fought against restrictions on the economy adopted by state governors and mayors. Just last week, the president sought to lift restrictions imposed in the Federal District, Bahia and Rio Grande do Sul via the Supreme Court, online news site G1 reported.