RIO DE JANEIRO • The coronavirus death toll in Brazil has surpassed 20,000, after a record number of fatalities in a 24-hour period, the health ministry said.
The country is the epicentre of the outbreak in Latin America, and its highest one-day toll of 1,188 on Thursday pushed the overall death tally to 20,047.
Brazil has now recorded more than 310,000 coronavirus cases, with experts saying a lack of testing means the real figures are probably much higher.
With its curve of infections and deaths rising sharply, the country of 210 million ranks third in the world in terms of total cases, behind the United States and Russia.
The death toll – the sixth highest worldwide – has doubled in just 11 days, according to ministry data.
Hospitals in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and various states across northern and north-eastern Brazil are near collapse. The authorities have been racing to set up field hospitals with more beds, but are struggling to build them fast enough.
Despite the worrying spread of the disease, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has famously compared the coronavirus to a “little flu”, on Thursday continued his calls to scrap lockdown measures to revive the country’s flagging economy.
Almost all of the country’s 27 states are under some sort of lockdown order, but Brazilians are wearying of the restrictions, which have been in place since the end of March.
Sao Paulo state, the economic and cultural capital of Brazil, is by far the most affected area, with about a quarter of the country’s deaths and infections.
The impact of the virus outbreak has also accelerated in Rio de Janeiro state in recent days.
Mr Bolsonaro is under growing pressure over his handling of the outbreak, which looks set to destroy the Brazilian economy and threaten his re-election hopes.
He said he will approve a 60 billion-real (S$15.1 billion) federal aid programme for states and cities but asked governors for support freezing public-sector pay increases.
A Bill to distribute federal money to states and municipalities was approved by Congress earlier this month. However, Mr Bolsonaro has not signed off on it due to pressure from Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, an avowed free-marketeer who wants more fiscal austerity.
Sao Paulo state, the economic and cultural capital of Brazil, is by far the most affected area, with about a quarter of the country’s deaths and infections. The impact of the virus outbreak has also accelerated in Rio de Janeiro state in recent days.
In return for signing off on the aid package, Mr Bolsonaro asked governors for their backing in specific measures to freeze pay increases for the public sector for two years.
Speaking on Thursday, he said it was normal for politicians to begin to lose some popularity after more than a year in office.
He has gone through two health ministers since the pandemic began, and the ministry is now in the hands of an interim minister, army general Eduardo Pazuello.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS