Brazil tops 10,000 deaths from COVID-19

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – Brazil, the hardest-hit Latin American country in the coronavirus pandemic, has surpassed 10,000 deaths, according to figures released last Saturday by the Ministry of Health.

While Brazil’s numbers are high – 10,627 deaths and 155,939 confirmed cases – scientists think the real figures could be 15 or even 20 times worse, given the country’s inability to carry out widespread testing.

Congress and the Supreme Court decreed an official mourning period of three days and lawmakers asked Brazilians to follow health authorities’ recommendations to reduce infection rates while the country prepares for “a safe and definitive return back to normal”.

Meanwhile President Jair Bolsonaro, who opposes stay-at-home measures due to their impact on the country’s economy, was seen jet skiing on Lake Paranoa in Brasilia, according to the Metropoles news website.

Officials told AFP he did not plan to make a statement on the country reaching 10,000 deaths.In the last 24 hours alone, the nation saw 10,611 new cases and 730 fatalities, Brazil’s second-highest daily death toll, after a record set last Friday (751 deaths).

Resisting pressure from Bolsonaro, the governors of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro states said they will extend the partial quarantine measures in force since March until the end of May.

The pandemic has given rise to ongoing governmental clashes, pitting the president against governors and mayors who have implemented social distancing and confinement measures to contain the virus’ spread – efforts supported by the country’s Supreme Court.

In announcing that his state’s lockdown would be prolonged, Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria said, “We are at the height of this pandemic. The situation is dire.”

His southeastern state of almost 46 million inhabitants has seen more than 3,600 deaths and over 44,400 cases.

Neighbouring Rio de Janeiro state, home to more than 16 million people, follows with 1,653 deaths and 16,929 infections. Less populated states such as Ceara, Pernambuco and Amazonas already have around a thousand dead each.

Amazonas, home to a number of indigenous tribes that are extremely vulnerable to the virus, has recorded 232 deaths per million inhabitants, almost three times the rate in Sao Paulo state.

While Brazil’s coronavirus peak is not expected for several more weeks, seven states have already seen their intensive care units fill to 90 per cent capacity.

Bolsonaro, who has compared the coronavirus to a “little flu,” tweeted that the country’s “army of unemployed continues to grow” in reference to a factory closure in the northeast, before asking “is chaos coming?”

Last Thursday the country’s economy minister, Paulo Guedes, said Brazil could face “economic collapse” in a month’s time due to stay-at-home measures.