Brazil becomes fifth highest country in number of COVID-19 deaths

RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil has reached 27,944 coronavirus deaths, official figures showed Saturday, surpassing the toll of hard-hit Spain and making it the country with the fifth-highest number of fatalities.

The epicenter of the South American coronavirus outbreak, Brazil saw 1,180 deaths in 24 hours, the Ministry of Health said.

It also had a record number of new cases – 29,526 in one day – bringing the total number of infections to 468,338. The United States, Britain, Italy and France lead the world in coronavirus deaths.

Brazil is second in the number of confirmed cases, though trailing far behind the United States which has 1.7 million infections.

The country has seen 131.2 coronavirus deaths per one million people – compared to more than 300 in the United States and 580 in Spain – but the pandemic has yet to peak in the country.

“There is no way to foresee” when the outbreak will peak, the Ministry of Health said, and experts say the number of cases in Brazil could be 15 times higher than the confirmed figure because there has been no widespread testing.

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President Jair Bolsonaro is facing mounting criticism over his response to the health and economic crisis. The far-right leader has downplayed the virus and railed against stay-at-home measures, arguing the economic fallout risks causing more damage than the virus itself.

But most state governments have stuck to the World Health Organization’s guidance and closed non-essential businesses.

The state of Sao Paulo, the most populous in the country, has been the epicenter of Brazil’s coronavirus pandemic, home to the first infection reported in the region and one of the first local governments to announce restrictive measures.

The state accounted for almost 70% of the country’s cases in mid-March, and 70% of deaths in early April. It now has about 101,556 cases cases, with 7,275 deaths, followed by Rio de Janeiro, and Ceara.

Despite a record number of new coronavirus cases reported in Brazil this week, Sao Paulo will allow shops and malls to reopen after two months of loosely enforced quarantine.

Bolsonaro has meanwhile pinned his hopes on the medication hydroxychloroquine, which –like US President Donald Trump– he has touted as a potential wonder drug against COVID-19.

Brazil’s health ministry recommends doctors in the public health system prescribe hydroxychloroquine or a related drug, chloroquine, from the onset of COVID-19 symptoms.

Meanwhile, hospitals in Brazil are dangerously close to the breaking point in the hardest-hit areas, and the outbreak is not expected to peak here until next month. One of Brazil’s best-known doctors, the neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, called it “the worst war Brazil has ever faced.”

“We never had an event like this. We never lost 25,000 people in a span of three months,” Nicolelis, who is coordinating the virus response in the impoverished and hard-hit northeast. “We never got invaded in our history, but I’m referring to this virus as an invasion. It came like an invading army, and it’s invading the whole of the country.”–With input from MercoPress