Brazil coronavirus toll surges to 3rd highest in the world

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – Brazil’s death toll from the new coronavirus surpassed Italy’s to become the third-highest in the world on Thursday, as the United Nation (UN) Secretary-General called for a “people’s vaccine” to stem the pandemic.

The bleak figures from Brazil underlined the grim toll the virus is taking in Latin America, the latest epicenter in the pandemic, even as Europe seeks to reemerge from lockdown – including with a massive new EUR600 billion (USD674 billion) economic stimulus measure announced by the European Central Bank.

But on the medical side, the outlook remains blurry. Even as researchers around the world race to develop and test vaccines, new – sometimes contradictory – information on the virus continues to emerge.

In the latest case, the medical journal The Lancet retracted a study that raised safety fears about hydroxychloroquine, a drug touted by United States (US) President Donald Trump as a treatment for COVID-19, after the paper’s authors said they were no longer confident in underlying data provided by a Chicago-based healthcare analytics firm.

The paper had led the World Health Organization (WHO) to suspend clinical trials of the drug, and its retraction added fuel to a politically charged debate over how to respond to the pandemic. Since emerging in China late last year, the virus has infected at least 6.6 million people, killed more than 390,000 and wreaked havoc on the global economy by forcing millions to stay inside their homes.

Brazil reported a new 24-hour record death toll, bringing the total number killed to more than 34,000. That is behind only the US, with more than 108,000 deaths, and Britain, with nearly 40,000.

President Jair Bolsonaro has fiercely criticised stay-at-home measures, even as the number of infections and deaths continues to soar.