Second only to US toll, COVID-19 death figures in Brazil surpass 80,000

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Brazil’s coronavirus death toll surpassed 80,000 Monday, according to health ministry figures, as the country hit second-hardest in the world continued struggling to control the pandemic.

The figure, second only to the death toll in the United States, quadrupled in two months. Brazil passed the mark of 20,000 COVID-19 deaths on May 21.

Recently, the Latin American country of 212 million people has regularly registered more than 1,000 new deaths a day — though the figure for Monday was lower, at 632, bringing its overall death toll to 80,120.

The country has confirmed 2.1 million total infections.

Experts say under-testing means the real numbers are probably much higher.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who is infected himself, faces criticism for downplaying the virus and urging state governors to reopen their economies despite health officials’ recommendations.

The far-right leader is currently in quarantine, along with several infected members of his cabinet. But he previously defied state authorities’ stay-at-home measures, whose economic impact he argues could be more damaging than the virus itself.

Bolsonaro, who famously compared the virus to a “little flu,” regularly hit the streets with no face mask until he got infected, shaking hands and taking pictures with supporters at rallies.

Like US President Donald Trump, whom he admires, Bolsonaro, 65, touts the anti-malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as promising treatments, and is taking the latter himself, despite a lack of evidence of their effectiveness against COVID-19.

The World Health Organization said Friday the outbreak in Brazil appears to have finally reached a plateau.

There is “an opportunity here now for Brazil… to suppress the transmission of the virus,” said WHO health emergencies chief Michael Ryan, urging the country to “take control.”

But though the level of daily deaths and infections has stabilized, it remains high.

On average, Brazil has registered more than 1,040 new deaths and 33,000 new infections a day over the past week.

“The WHO talks about a plateau… but the problem is, the level remains very high, and it looks set to stay that way for quite some time,” said Mauro Sanchez, an epidemiologist at the University of Brasilia.

Gaining control “will depend on what we do in terms of public policy, and on whether people follow it,” he told AFP.

Only the United States has more infections and deaths than Brazil in the pandemic, with 3.8 million and 140,811, respectively.

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