Why has Brazil become world’s fourth biggest coronavirus hotspot?
Brazil’s COVID-19 case count -- 233,142 -- now stands behind the US, Russia and the UK as its President Jair Bolsonaro continues to dismiss the deadly virus as “little flu”. So far, more than 15,000 people have died in Brazil.
Brazil has surpassed Spain and Italy -- once labelled as the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe -- in number of COVID-19 cases in the world, making the outbreak in the country fourth largest in the world, according to official data.
More than 15,000 people have died in Brazil after contracting the highly-contagious virus, the country's Health Ministry says. Health officials reported 816 new deaths on Saturday, bringing the total to 15,633.
The number of cases in Brazil continues to rise. There are 233,142 cases of the virus in the country and 14,919 new cases were reported in the 24-hour period between Friday and Saturday, the Ministry said. The country’s case count now stands behind the US, Russia and the UK.
Brazil has reached this worrying level of cases because of its ignorant President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been disputing the seriousness of the health crisis, dismissing the advice of health officials, fighting with governors trying to take precautions and putting the poor at greatest risk.
Till now, Brazil has done just a fraction of the testing seen in the US, UK and Russia.
Bolsonaro lost his second Health Minister in a month on Friday as he continues to ignore the health crisis and calls for widespread use of unproven drugs. Nelson Teich had criticised a decree issued by the President allowing gyms and beauty parlours to reopen. However, Teich gave no reason for his resignation.
The President has often downplayed the novel coronavirus as the “little flu”, and disputed its seriousness, attracting global criticism. Earlier, he mocked social distancing measures intended to slow the spread of the virus, proclaiming that “we’ll all die one day”.
Bolsonaro has been fiercely critical of the orders by Brazil's state governors for strict social isolation and quarantine to combat the spread of the virus, including the closure of schools, shops and restaurants.
He argues that the toll on the economy is becoming unbearable and businesses must be allowed to reopen as soon as possible. The government now expects Brazil will post its biggest annual economic contraction this year since records began over a century ago.
Bolsonaro tested negative for COVID-19 in three separate exams that were released to the public in the past week by Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski. The release of the tests, which were administered between March 12 and March 17 after his return from the US, brought an end to a prolonged standoff in which Bolsonaro had refused to make results public, despite repeated legal rulings.
Several members of the Brazilian President's team had tested positive for COVID-19 after the trip to the US.
Brazil's Vice President Hamilton Mourao underwent a COVID-19 test and was placed in isolation at his official residence on Saturday, after a public servant who had been near him last week tested positive.
Mourao, 66, will not fulfill official duties on Monday, when the results are expected. Bolsonaro has undergone several coronavirus tests after ministers and other close aides tested positive.
Nationwide testing in Brazil still lags far behind European nations. Brazil had processed nearly 338,000 novel coronavirus tests in official labs by the beginning of the week, according to the Health Ministry. Another 145,000 tests were under analysis or waiting in line.
By contrast, Italy and Spain have each run some 1.9 million official diagnostic tests for the virus.