20 Jun 2020

Covid-19: Brazil becomes second country to hit one million cases

5:06 pm on 20 June 2020

Brazil has become the second country in the world to confirm more than one million cases of Covid-19, as the disease continues to spread.

The Vila Formosa cemetery, where the dead bodies of the coronavirus pandemic victims are buried in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The Vila Formosa cemetery, where the dead bodies of the coronavirus pandemic victims are buried in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo: 2020 Anadolu Agency

The health ministry also posted a record number of new cases in the past 24 hours - more than 54,000.

In addition, there were more than 1200 deaths for the fourth consecutive day, taking the total to nearly 49,000.

A lack of testing suggests the true figures are higher and experts say the outbreak is weeks away from its peak.

The new figure was revealed hours after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the coronavirus pandemic was entering a "new and dangerous" phase, with its director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warning that cases were rising at the same time as people are growing weary of lockdowns and governments are seeking to restart their economies.

Latin America is among the areas currently seeing a spike in infections. There are major outbreaks in a number of countries, including Chile and Peru, while Mexico became the seventh country to officially surpass 20,000 virus-related deaths on Friday.

But only the US has seen more infections than Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has been heavily criticised for his response to the crisis. The far-right leader has repeatedly clashed with state governors and mayors who have adopted strict restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, shutting down major cities.

Bolsonaro argues that the economic impact of the measures will be much bigger than the virus itself, a position shared by many. But his overall approach to the crisis has led to the resignation of two health ministers.

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What is the situation in Brazil?

As there was no national lockdown, states and cities adopted their own measures. After months of restrictions, some are slowly being lifted, even though the infection level remains high.

There is still concern that the health system will be unable to cope in some places, and that the disease is spreading faster in deprived neighbourhoods and remote areas, such as indigenous communities, where access to adequate care is difficult.

How is President Bolsonaro handling the crisis?

The coronavirus has become a highly political issue in Brazil. Experts say the president's refusal to follow scientific advice - including those set by the World Health Organization (WHO), such as social distancing - is partially responsible for the severity of the crisis.

President Jair Bolsonaro (centre) maintains that Brazilians must keep working while taking precautions not to catch Covid-19.

Jair Bolsonaro and his allies have turned against the media, claiming an excessive focus on the number of victims. Photo: AFP

At the start, Bolsonaro repeatedly said the risk posed by the virus had been exaggerated, and even joined some anti-lockdown rallies organised by his supporters, undermining the message of his own health ministry against crowds.

Bolsonaro has accused state governors of using the issue for political gain as many who have taken stricter measures oppose his government. João Doria, governor of Brazil's richest state São Paulo and an ally-turned-rival, has previously described the president's views on tackling the disease as "Bolsonarovirus".

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

The president has also strongly supported the use of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of patients, a drug the WHO says does not reduce death rates. After two health ministers quit, the government's response is now being led by an army general who has no experience in public health.

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro and his allies have turned against the media, claiming an excessive focus on the number of victims. The health ministry removed data about the virus from a government website earlier this month, but was forced to reverse the decision after a Supreme Court order and accusations of trying to manipulate the figures.

Amid the pandemic, Bolsonaro is facing a growing political crisis. He is under investigation for allegedly trying to interfere with the police for political motives, which he denies, while the Supreme Court is carrying out two separate inquiries into his allies.


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