Brazil’s number of coronavirus cases have surged over the last few weeks and reached a peak on Wednesday. The health ministry reported 19,951 infections from the previous 24 hours, bringing its total to 291,579. That makes Brazil the country with the third-highest number of confirmed cases in the world.
Numbers are expected to be even higher than reported due to lack of rigorous testing and a pattern of President Jair Bolsonaro downplaying the pandemic.
Deaths continue to rise as well. On Tuesday, a record 1,179 new deaths were reported. Now, at least 19,038 people have died from the virus. Bolsonaro, like Donald Trump, touts the benefits of the unproven drug chloroquine, which is used to prevent malaria. He has said new protective measures are coming but didn’t elaborate more, even as Sao Paulo mayor Bruno Covas alerted the government that public hospitals in his city, which is among the most hard-hit, had reached 90% capacity. The healthcare system there, he warned, could collapse within two weeks.
“It is hard to believe that some prefer the population to be subjected to Russian roulette. Indifference in the face of death is unseemly,” Covas said while urging people in Sao Paulo to “slow down even more.” He recently met with the state governor to introduce stricter lockdown measures.
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro has waged battles with other governors and contradicted their quarantine efforts by adding more essential federal job categories and urging people to get to work.
On Tuesday, Trump signaled that he’s thinking about instituting a travel ban to and from Brazil.
“We are considering it,” Trump said, adding: “We hope that we’re not going to have a problem. The governor of Florida is doing very, very well testing—in particular Florida, because a big majority come in to Florida. Brazil has gone more or less herd, and they’re having problems… I worry about everything, I don’t want people coming in here and infecting our people. I don’t want people over there sick, either.”
The relentless spread in Brazil is, in part, why Latin America has now accounted for a third of global cases reported in the last week, surpassing U.S. and Europe daily numbers. According to Axios, the surge in cases indicates a shift in the spread of COVID-19 from the original epicenter of China to Europe. Even more devastating is that so many governments in Latin America lack robust health infrastructures, and the consequences of the growing pandemic could be even more dire than what we’ve seen so far in the region.