Brazil sees record virus deaths as pandemic surges in Latin America

Updated May 21, 2020

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Brazil has been hardest-hit in the region, rising to the third-highest number of cases in the world. — Reuters/File
Brazil has been hardest-hit in the region, rising to the third-highest number of cases in the world. — Reuters/File

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil has seen a record number of coronavirus deaths as the pandemic that has swept across the world begins to hit Latin America with its full force.

With Europe continuing to ease lockdowns and looking to restart its summer tourism season, Latin America has seen coronavirus infections surge in recent days and now accounts for about 580,000 of the world’s nearly five million confirmed cases.

Brazil has been hardest-hit in the region, rising to the third-highest number of cases in the world, as Peru, Mexico and Chile also see steady increases in infections.

Health officials in Brazil reported 1,179 new coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, the first time the daily toll exceeded 1,000, but far-right President Jair Bolsonaro remains bitterly opposed to lockdowns, having described them as unnecessary over a “little flu”.

With the outbreak in the world’s sixth-largest country expected to accelerate until early June, many Brazilians are deeply worried about the next few weeks.

“Our country is going from bad to worse,” said retiree Gilberto Ferreira in Rio de Janeiro.

“We have an inefficient government, and the people also do not obey the rules of the pandemic.” Bolsonaro has refused to accept experts’ advice on responding to the pandemic, pressing regional governors to end stay-at-home measures.

And like US counterpart Donald Trump, he has promoted the use of anti-malaria drugs against the virus despite studies showing they have no benefit and could have dangerous side effects.

New federal guidelines released by Brazil’s health ministry on Wednesday recommended doctors prescribe the drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, from the onset of coronavirus symptoms.

Chile is also suffering from a sharp rise in cases and deployed soldiers on the outskirts of its locked-down capital Santiago after clashes with protesters angry about food shortages and job losses.

There were worrying signs in Argentina too, with authorities in the second city Cordoba having to backtrack on easing lockdown measures following a sharp spike in infections.

Europe is meanwhile hoping the worst is behind it, with the number of new cases and deaths on a steady decline after the continent suffered nearly 170,000 fatalities from the pandemic. The global toll now stands at more than 323,000, according to a tally.

Lockdown measures are being eased in many parts of Europe, with residents enjoying old freedoms for the first time in weeks.

“I haven’t seen the sea for two months,” said Helena Prades at a beach in Barcelona, where residents were allowed to stroll from Wednesday.

“We just really wanted to hear the sound of the waves and walk for a bit along the sand.” Face masks are now mandatory for anyone aged six and over in public where social distancing is not possible, as the country emerges from one of the world’s toughest lockdowns.

European officials are scrambling to try to save the summer tourism season, which is crucial for the continent’s economies.

European Union tourism ministers held a virtual meeting on Wednesday as Greece announced plans to restart its travel season.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said seasonal hotels could reopen from June 15 and that international flights would resume from July 1.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2020