The Universe Tribune / ID/20 06 2020/TUT/00105

Brazil reported 1,032,913 confirmed cases on Friday, with 1,206 new deaths to take total official fatalities to 48,954, according to the Health Ministry. Friday also saw a new record daily number of cases, with 54,771, suggesting the outbreak is far from over. The country is likely to surpass 50,000 deaths on Saturday.

Even so, many experts say the lack of widespread testing indicates that the true extent of the outbreak far exceeds the official figures, and the outbreak is weeks away from its peak.

“That number of one million is much less than the real number of people who have been infected, because there is under-reporting of a magnitude of five to 10 times,” said Alexandre Naime Barbosa, a medical professor at the Sao Paulo State University. “The true number is probably at least three million and could even be as high as 10 million people.”

COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, arrived in Brazil via wealthy tourists returning from Europe to major southeastern cities such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and has spread deep into the interior, reaching 82 percent of Brazil’s municipalities, Health Ministry data showed.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who has long-admired Donald Trump, has been widely criticized for his handling of the crisis. He overtly defies social distancing, calling it a job-killing measure more dangerous than the virus itself and has repeatedly clashed with state governors and mayors, accusing them for adopting strict restrictions and shutting down major cities to stop the virus.

His overall attitude towards the crisis has led to the resignation of two health ministers and the country so far still has no permanent health minister.

He has also promoted two anti-malarial drugs as remedies, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, despite little evidence showing they work.

The far-right former army captain’s handling of the crisis has prompted Brazilians to bang pots and pans regularly outside their apartments in protest, but it has not stopped him from wading into costly political battles with his own cabinet and the Supreme Court, stoking fears of instability.

Pressure from Bolsonaro and public fatigue after months of ineffective state and local isolation orders has led governors and mayors to begin lifting restrictions on commerce and other economic activity.

Public health experts have warned that loosening restrictions too soon threatens to accelerate contagion and drive up fatalities.

“We think that there will be a new wave after the loosening of these measures,” said Ricardo Langer, a doctor treating COVID-19 patients at the Maracanã stadium field hospital in Rio de Janeiro.

A worsening outbreak could weigh on already-grim economic forecasts. The government has said the economy will contract by 4.7 percent this year, while economists surveyed by the central bank think it will fall more than six percent.

Latin America has registered 90,439 deaths, according to a Reuters tally, with nearly two million cases.

( With input from Reuters )

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