Brazil trails only US in coronavirus deaths

Sao Paulo, Jun 12 (efe-epa).- Brazil’s death toll from Covid-19 has reached 41,828, the health ministry said Friday, making the giant Latin American nation second only to the United States in both cases and fatalities.

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed 116,000 lives in the US, where cases have topped 2 million.

Brazil, with a population just under two-thirds that of the US, has 828,810 confirmed infections, according to the latest report from the ministry.

Though Brazilian health officials say the peak of the outbreak here is still weeks away, all but a few of the country’s 27 states are moving forward with plans to re-open the economy, to the dismay of the scientific community and hearty applause from right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

“That flexibilization is quite risky at this moment, considering we are at an uncontrolled point of the pandemic in the country, with an increase of confirmed cases and deaths,” Dr. Leonardo Weissmann, an expert in epidemiology, told Efe.

Since Feb. 26, when the first case was detected, Covid-19 has spread to 80 percent of the municipalities in Brazil.

And amid an unprecedented public health crisis, the Brazilian Health Ministry is led by Gen. Eduardo Pazuello, a career military officer with no experience in the field.

Pazuello took charge in mid-May, becoming the third health minister in a little more than a month following the successive resignations of two respected physicians who clashed with Bolsonaro over the handling of what the president has dismissed as a “measly flu.”

On Thursday, Bolsonaro suggested – not for the first time – that unnamed individuals were manipulating the coronavirus numbers to make his administration look bad.

Addressing supporters in a video posted on social media, he urged them to “seek a way to enter” public hospitals and use their cell phones to document whether the health care system is truly being overwhelmed.

“Many have already done this, but more people have to do it to show if the beds are occupied or not,” the president said.

Bolsonaro, who persists in minimizing the threat even though many members of his staff have tested positive, regularly flouts social distancing guidelines by mingling with his supporters, shaking hands and posing for selfies.

Last week, the administration stopped releasing running tallies of cases and deaths, only for the Supreme Court to step in and order the health ministry to resume providing those figures.

A study released this week by the Rio de Janeiro-based Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), Latin America’s largest medical research institution, found that inhabitants of Brazil’s major cities largely abandoned social distancing at the end of last month, before authorities began rolling back restrictions.

Citing using GPS data and other indicators, Fiocruz said that the incidence of traffic jams in the Rio, Sao Paulo, Recife, Manaus and Porto Alegre metropolitan areas rose by an average of 20 percent in the last few weeks.

Sao Paulo state, where nearly 70 percent of ICU beds are occupied, remains the center of the pandemic in Brazil, with 167,900 cases and 10,368 fatalities. Next is Rio de Janeiro state, with 77,784 infections and 7,417 deaths. EFE


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