Reuters/AFP Rio de Janeiro/Lima
Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak worsened on Wednesday and the South American nation could soon have the second-highest number of cases in the world as the Health Ministry reported 888 new deaths and nearly 20,000 new infections in a single day.
Brazil might soon trail only the United States in the number of coronavirus cases. Russia currently has the second-highest number of cases.
Brazil’s coronavirus death toll is 18,859. Brazil’s confirmed case tally now stands at 291,579, according to the Health Ministry.
On Monday, Brazil overtook Britain to become the country with the third-highest number of infections and registered a daily record of 1,179 deaths on Tuesday.
President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticised for his handling of the outbreak.
The far-right former army captain has long snubbed social-distancing measures, arguing instead for the reopening the economy.
He has also become an increasingly strong advocate for the malaria drug chloroquine as a possible remedy for Covid-19, despite warnings from health experts.
On Wednesday, the Health Ministry issued new guidelines for wider use of anti-malarial drugs in mild coronavirus cases.
Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, an active-duty army general, authorised the modified protocol after two trained doctors left the ministry’s top job under pressure to promote the early use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.
“We are at war. Worse than defeat would be the shame of not putting up a fight,” Bolsonaro tweeted about the government decision to put forward the drugs without proof of their effectiveness.
Gonzalo Vecina Neto, the former head of Brazil’s health regulator, Anvisa, called the new measures a “barbarity” that could cause more harm than good because of the dangerous potential side effects of the drug.
“It has no scientific evidence,” Vecina Neto told Reuters.
“(It is) unbelievable that in the 21st century, we are living off magical thinking.”
Meanwhile, the mayor of the largest city in the Amazon rainforest said the coronavirus pandemic is killing indigenous people and warned of a “genocide” if Brazil’s right-wing government fails to protect vulnerable tribes.
So far 25 indigenous people have died in the rainforest as the outbreak slowly penetrates remote villages, but more than 100 have been killed by the virus in urban areas, health authorities and indigenous groups said.
“I fear a genocide,” said Arthur Virgilio Neto, mayor of Manaus, a city of 2mn people and capital of Amazonas state, in a video posted on social media late on Tuesday.
The mayor said the Bolsonaro government was not concerned about the plight of indigenous people and doing nothing to save lives threatened by the outbreak.
“It is a crime against humanity what they are doing here in my state of Amazonas, in my region.” he said.
Bolsonaro’s office did not reply to requests for comment.
Healthcare for indigenous people is the responsibility of the federal health ministry and its indigenous health service Sesai, which does not treat members of a tribe who have migrated away from their ancestral lands.
Health experts say the outbreak that first broke out in the cities is now spreading to isolated areas where the population has no access to healthcare.
Pan American Health Organization officials said in a virtual briefing on Tuesday they were particularly concerned about contagion in the tri-border area of the Amazon between Colombia, Peru and Brazil.
Peru has become the second Latin American country after Brazil to reach 100,000 coronavirus cases, according to health ministry figures released on Wednesday.
The number of dead from Covid-19 has also passed 3,000, with only Brazil and Mexico having suffered more. Both cases and deaths have tripled since April 30.
The dire statistics come even though Peru has been in lockdown for nine weeks, paralysing the economy. The vast majority of cases are in Lima and its port Callao, where one third of the country’s 32mn people live.
Peru’s health system is overwhelmed and teetering on the brink of collapse, with public hospitals facing drastic equipment shortages.
“It’s like a horror film,” Miguel Armas, a nurse at the Hipolito Unanue hospital in the capital Lima told AFP.
“Inside it seems like a cemetery given all the bodies. Patients are dying in their chairs (or) in their wheelchairs.”
Armas and fellow hospital staff protested in the streets on Wednesday demanding better safety equipment.
Peru has 7,500 people receiving hospital treatment for Covid-19, according to the latest figures.
Lima’s crematoriums have had to work day and night to deal with the dead, while queues of funeral cars have formed outside some hospitals in the Callao neighborhood.
“My father died alone, there are no doctors inside, (patients) are dying because there are no doctors and no medicine,” Gloria Baylon, 37, told AFP outside the Luis Negreiros hospital in Callao.
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