Brazil surpasses Italy, Spain as coronavirus cases surge in Latin America

Brazil has now overtaken Spain and Italy in total confirmed coronavirus cases to become the world’s fourth hardest-hit country during the pandemic.

Brazil’s Health Ministry announced 14,919 new confirmed cases on Saturday, bringing its total to 233,142 – fourth-most after the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom.

Nationwide testing in Brazil lags far behind Europe, meaning the virus could be more widespread than what the numbers actually represent. Brazil had processed nearly 338,000 tests by the start of last week, with another 145,000 under analysis.

By comparison, Spain and Italy have each run roughly 1.9 million tests.

Cases are also surging in Mexico and Peru as Latin America grapples with the rapidly growing outbreak. Mexico registered 278 new deaths on Saturday – the most of any country in the world on that day.

With Brazil overtaking Spain and Italy – once considered the hotspots of the pandemic in Europe – President Jair Bolsonaro will face renewed criticism for his handling of the pandemic.

British medical journal The Lancet published an editorial earlier this month in which it labeled Bolsonaro as “the biggest threat” to Brazil’s efforts to fight the pandemic.

Brazil state governors have pushed for strict social isolation and quarantine measures, including closures of shops and restaurants. Bolsonaro has defied such efforts, arguing that the toll on the economy far outweighs quarantine efforts.

On April 20, he joined a protest calling to end social distancing and revive military dictatorship-era decrees.

After the resignation of a second health minister, Bolsonaro tweeted  “Unemployment, hunger and misery will be the future of those who support the tyranny of total isolation.” Nelson Teich resigned after only a month in charge, protesting against Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic.

Recently, a journalist asked him about the rapid spread of coronavirus in Brazil, to which the far-right president responded: “So what? What do you want me to do?”

Rio de Janeiro Gov. Wilson Witzel, a former ally of Bolsonaro, said “no one can do serious work with interference in ministries.” “That is why governors and mayors need to lead the pandemic crisis, and not you, Mr. President,” Witzel said on Twitter.

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