Brazil has so far passed the bleakest day of the coronavirus crisis with a record 1,179 new deaths and 17,408 new cases per day, confirming the country’s place as a new epicenter of Covid-19.
The alarming wave is taking Brazil’s death toll from 16,792 to 17,971 – with experts warning that the worst is yet to come.
The total number of infections rose from 254,220 to 271,628, the third highest number in the world after the United States and Russia.
Public health experts say the peak is not expected until June and fear that the real magnitude of the crisis will be much greater due to insufficient testing.
Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, remains bitterly opposed to the closures imposed by most states, enraged at the economic damage over what he calls a “minor flu.”
Coronavirus patients lie in capsules Monday in a hospital in Manaus, Brazil, which has now suffered nearly 18,000 deaths from Covid-19
The Brazilian Ministry of Health said 146,863 people are currently being treated for Covid-19, while 106,794 people have recovered from the disease.
The latest death toll is the first time more than 1,000 deaths have been added per day.
The ministry said many of the 1,179 new deaths did not occur yesterday and are only now being registered due to delays in confirming the cause of death.
The state of Sao Paulo accounts for 65,995 of the total cases, while the Rio de Janeiro region has suffered 27,805, according to official figures.
Sao Paulo has seen 5,147 deaths, with 3,079 fatalities confirmed in Rio de Janeiro, the Ministry of Health says.
Hospitals are already close to the breaking point in some areas, including Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and the northwestern state of Amazonas.
About 13 million Brazilians live in the ‘favelas’ slum, where hygiene recommendations and physical distance are almost impossible to follow.
Bolsonaro was a bitter opponent of lockdown measures, but most of the country’s 27 state governors ignored him and imposed their own.
Earlier this month, the Sao Paulo government extended mandatory quarantine orders through May 31, after originally due to expire on May 11.
Bolsonaro argues that the toll on the economy is becoming unbearable and that companies should be able to reopen as soon as possible.
The government now expects Brazil to experience the biggest annual economic contraction this year since records began over a century ago.
Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro (pictured in Brasilia earlier this month) has opposed lockdowns and praised the use of the unproven antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine
Like his ally Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has also touted the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus, even though doctors have doubts about its effectiveness and warn of potential health risks if they use it.
The President lost two health ministers during the crisis, one of whom resigned after colliding with Bolsonaro over the use of chloroquine.
Bolsonaro said interim minister Eduardo Pazuello would release new guidelines on Wednesday to expand the use of the drug.
The president told Brazilian media that Pazuello, an army officer on active duty, would sign the new chloroquine guidelines and maintain the top position for the time being.
Bolsonaro has also violated social distance rules himself by talking to supporters at outdoor gatherings and saying he would invite 30 friends over to a barbecue.
Latin America and the poorer regions of the world have so far suffered less from the pandemic than the wealthy world, but it is feared that the worst is yet to come.
Argentina has also seen a spike of infections in its second city of Córdoba, forcing officials to reverse plans to facilitate closure.
Officials from the Pan-American Health Organization say they are concerned about the spread of the virus in the Amazon tri-border region between Colombia, Peru and Brazil.
They called for special measures to protect vulnerable populations among the indigenous, poor and racial minorities.
World Bank head David Malpass said yesterday that up to 60 million people could be “pushed into extreme poverty” if the virus hits developing countries.