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Volkswagen said Friday it was suspending production at its four plants in Brazil for 12 days because of a new surge of COVID-19 in the hard-hit country.

Brazil is reeling from a new wave of infections and deaths that has pushed hospitals across the country close to the .

The German auto maker's Brazilian unit said that starting Wednesday it would temporarily halt vehicle production "to protect the health of its employees and their families."

More than 290,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil, more than any country except the United States.

During the first wave of the pandemic last year, production at car companies operating in Brazil ground to a near-total halt, causing output to plummet 99 percent last April.