SAO PAULO – Brazil became the world No 2 hotspot for coronavirus cases on Saturday, second only to the United States, after it confirmed that 347,398 people had been infected by the virus, overtaking Russia.
Brazil has registered nearly 2,000 coronavirus deaths in the past two days, taking total deaths to 22,013, according to the Health Ministry.
In Sao Paulo, the worst-hit city, aerial video showed rows of open plots at the Formosa Cemetery as it rushed to keep up with demand.
“In a sense, South America has become a new epicenter for the disease,” the World Health Organization’s top emergencies expert, Dr. Mike Ryan, said with Brazil being the “most affected” South American country.
Ryan added that authorities in Brazil have broadly approved anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 treatment even though clinical evidence does not support its widespread use given potential side effects.
President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for his handling of the outbreak and is at the centre too of a deepening political crisis. The true number of cases and deaths is likely higher than the figures suggest, as Latin America’s top economy has been slow to ramp up testing.
On Monday, Brazil overtook Britain to become the country with the third-highest number of infections. It surpassed Russia on Friday, but is unlikely to pass the United States soon. The world’s No 1 economy has more than 1.67 million cases.
Since the outbreak began, Bolsonaro has lost two health ministers, after pressuring them to promote the early use of anti-malarial drugs like chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. Several high-profile public health experts have also left. Many have been replaced by soldiers.
On Wednesday, Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, an active-duty army general, authorized new guidelines for the wider use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in mild cases. –With input from MercoPress