Brazil passes 1 million coronavirus cases with no end in sight

By Pedro Fonseca and Gabriel Stargardter
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil had 1 million coronavirus cases on Friday and was approaching 50,000 deaths. This is a new nadir for the second most affected country in the world as it struggles with a tense political climate and deteriorating economic prospects.
Brazil was the second largest case of the novel coronavirus on February 26 after the United States in both cases and deaths. The virus has spread relentlessly across the continent-wide country, undermining support for right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and raising fears of economic collapse after years of anemic growth.
Brazil reported 1,032,913 confirmed cases on Friday, with 1,206 new deaths increasing the number of official deaths to 48,954, the Ministry of Health said. On Friday, there was a new daily record of 54,771 cases, indicating that the outbreak is far from over. Brazil is likely to suffer more than 50,000 deaths on Saturday, although weekend reporting may be lower.
Even so, the true extent of the outbreak, according to many experts who cite a lack of widespread testing, is well above the official numbers.
"This figure of 1 million is much less than the actual number of people infected because there is five to ten times underreporting," said Alexandre Naime Barbosa, medical professor at the State University of São Paulo. "The true number is likely to be at least 3 million, and could even be up to 10 million people."
COVID-19, the coronavirus disease, came to Brazil via wealthy tourists returning from Europe to southeastern cities such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and has spread deep inland to reach 82% of the Brazilian community.
Bolsonaro, sometimes called "Tropical Trump", has been widely criticized for dealing with the crisis. The country still hasn't had a permanent health minister since April after clashes with the president after clashes with the president.
Bolsonaro has avoided social distancing and calls it a job-cutting measure that is more dangerous than the virus itself. He has also promoted two antimalarials as cures, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, although there is little evidence that they work.
The way the far-right ex-army captain dealt with the crisis has prompted the Brazilians to regularly hit pots and pans in front of their homes in protest, but it hasn't stopped him from getting into expensive political battles with his own cabinet and the Supreme Court Anxiety about instills instability.
Bolsonaro's pressure and the exhaustion of the public after months of ineffective state and local isolation orders have prompted governors and mayors to lift restrictions on trade and other economic activities.
Public health experts have warned that loosening the restrictions too early could accelerate contagion and cause death.
"We believe that once these measures are relaxed, there will be a new wave," said Ricardo Langer, a doctor who treats COVID-19 patients at the Maracanã Stadium field hospital in Rio de Janeiro.
A worsening outbreak could weigh on the already gloomy economic forecasts. The government has announced that the economy will shrink by 4.7% this year, while economists surveyed by the central bank expect it to shrink by more than 6%.
Latin America has recorded 90,439 deaths with nearly 2 million cases, according to a Reuters balance sheet.

(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Letter from Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Brad Haynes, Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)

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