At a glance: Brazil buckles under spread of new coronavirus
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Latin America’s largest nation is moving closer to becoming one of the world’s hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The number of cases in Brazil is growing amid political discord over the nation’s response, threatening to overwhelm hospitals, morgues and cemeteries.
With 211 million residents, Brazil is the largest nation by population as well as size. It is known for its Copacabana Beach and a cocktail called the caipirinha, and its vast landscape encompasses sweeping rainforests, including much of the Amazon basin and a long coastline. Brazil also has one of the world’s largest economies and is by far the powerhouse among its neighbors in Latin America.
Brazil has recorded at least 61,800 cases and at least 4,200 deaths of the new coronavirus. Health experts expect the number of infections will be much higher than what has been reported because of what they are calling insufficient, delayed testing. Nearly all Brazilian states have stay-at-home measures in place, some extending until mid-May.
CORONAVIRUS AND POLITICS
President Jair Bolsonaro, however, has dismissed health officials’ dire predictions about the virus’s spread in his country, having called it a “little flu.” He says only Brazilians at high risk should be isolated. Bolsonaro’s stance largely echoes that of his counterpart and ally, U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been stressing the need to put people back to work as unemployment figures reach Depression-era levels.
Long before health officials say the virus should peak in Brazil, Bolsonaro in mid-April fired his health minister. Removal of the government’s popular pointman on pandemic response followed a series of disagreements over efforts to contain the new coronavirus. Bolsonaro replaced him with an advocate for reopening the economy. Residents protested, leaning out their windows to bang pots and pans.
Medical officials in Rio de Janeiro and at least four other major cities have warned that their hospital systems are on the verge of collapse, or already too overwhelmed to take any more patients. In Manaus, the biggest city in the Amazon, officials said a cemetery has been forced to dig mass graves because there have been so many deaths. Workers have been burying 100 corpses a day — triple the pre-virus average of burials.