Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020

Brazil jumps to world No. 2 in Covid-19 cases, behind US

RIO DE JANEIRO • Brazil became the world No. 2 hot spot for coronavirus cases on Friday – second only to the United States – after it confirmed that 330,890 people had been infected by the virus, overtaking Russia.

This came as the World Health Organisation (WHO) said South America has become a new epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Brazil registered 1,001 daily coronavirus deaths on Friday, taking its total fatalities to 21,048, 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.

President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticised for his handling of the outbreak and is also at the centre of a deepening political crisis. The former army captain has seen his ratings drop, hurt by his opposition to social distancing measures, support of the unproven remedy chloroquine, and tussles with experienced public health officials.

The true number of cases and deaths in Brazil is likely higher than the figures suggest, as Latin America’s top economy has been slow to ramp up testing.

The outbreak is accelerating. 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 US soon. The world’s No. 1 economy has more than 1.6 million cases.

Covid-19 surges across much of Central and South America have driven the global tally to nearly 5.3 million cases, with more than 340,000 deaths as of yesterday, even as Europe and the US cautiously move into a recovery phase.

“In a sense, South America has become a new epicentre for the disease,” WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan said on Friday.

“We’ve seen many South American countries with increasing numbers of cases… but certainly the most affected is Brazil at this point.”

Unlike in Europe and the US, where the elderly were the hardest hit, a significant number of deaths in Brazil have been younger people, who are often driven by poverty to work despite the threat of infection.

“Since Brazil has a younger population, it’s normal for the number of cases to be higher among the under-60s,” said Dr Mauro Sanchez, an epidemiologist at the University of Brasilia.

“What’s perverse is that a lot of the people who are exposing themselves to the virus are doing it because they don’t have a choice.”

As the toll mounted, grave-diggers at a cemetery outside Sao Paulo scrambled to keep up.

“We’ve been working 12-hour days, burying them one after the other,” said one worker at Vila Formosa, wearing a protective suit, mask and face shield. “It doesn’t stop.”

On Friday, confirmed coronavirus cases in Argentina surpassed 10,000, after the country recorded the highest single-day increase since the start of the pandemic. There are 10,649 cases, up by 718 from a day earlier, mostly in the capital Buenos Aires, according to government data. The death toll is 433.

Argentina has been under a mandatory lockdown in most parts of the country since March 20 and has one of the strictest travel bans in the world, blocking the sale and purchase of flight tickets until September.

The government had extended the lockdown until today for some parts of the country, while relaxing some limited restrictions on movement and businesses.

Buenos Aires, which has the highest concentration of cases in the country, is still under the toughest restrictions, though people have begun to venture out more as some business sectors reopen.

“The measures that were taken at the beginning were good, but due to the greater flexibility, many more people began to go out and today we are getting to what we did not want, the peak of infections,” said Buenos Aires resident Alan Godoy, wearing a mask on the street outside a subway station.

“Unfortunately, we are in a country that lacks funds and people have to go out to work. It is reality,” he said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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