Sao Paulo, May 22 (efe-epa).- Brazil reported 20,803 new coronavirus cases on Friday to surpass Russia as the country with the second-highest number after the United States.
The latest figures boosted the Brazilian total to 330,890, the health ministry said, while fatalities climbed by 1,001 to 21,048.
Covid-19 has killed more than 96,000 people in the US, which has 1.63 million confirmed infections.
Some studies, however, suggest that due to rampant underreporting, the actual number of cases in Brazil is up to 15 times greater, which would be 4.96 million.
Sao Paulo state, home to 46 million of the country’s 210 million people, accounts for 76,871 cases and nearly 30 percent of the deaths.
Next comes Rio de Janeiro, whose likenamed capital city is experiencing a coronavirus mortality rate of 12.7 percent, almost double the national rate of 6.5 percent, according to the IBGE statistics agency.
Despite the current concentration of infections and fatalities in comparatively prosperous Sao Paulo and Rio, the World Health Organization (WHO) pointed with alarm Friday to the situation in Brazil’s poorer northern regions, including the vast expanse of Amazonia.
“We’ve seen many South American countries with increasing numbers of cases and clearly there’s a concern across many of those countries, but certainly the most affected is Brazil at this point,” WHO executive director Mike Ryan said from the agency’s headquarters in Geneva.
“In a sense, South America has become a new epicenter for the disease,” he said.
Two days after the Brazilian government approved the use of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine for all Covid-19 patients, the WHO cast doubt on the wisdom of that decision.
“The current clinical evidence does not support the widespread use of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of Covid-19, not until the trials are completed and we have clearer results,” Ryan said Friday.
Those comments coincided with the publication in The Lancet of a study appearing to show that treatment with hydroxychloroquine is associated with a higher risk of death among coronavirus patients.
A quarrel over the safety of hydroxychloroquine led last week to the departure of Brazilian Health Minister Nelson Teich, who resisted pressure from right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro to expand the use of the drug.
The giant Latin American nation is now on its third health minister in the space of a month.
US President Donald Trump disclosed this week that he has been taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent becoming infected with Covid-19, despite the absence of any evidence the drug protects people from the illness. EFE as/dr