Brazil jumps to No. 2 in worldwide coronavirus cases, behind the US

Henrietta Strickland
May 23, 2020

Gravediggers wearing protective suits prepare to bury the coffin of a person who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during a ceremony with no relatives, at Vila Formosa cemetery, Brazil's biggest cemetery, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, May 22, 2020.

Brazil overtook Russia Friday as the country with the second-highest number of coronavirus infections worldwide behind the United States, as the Americas emerged as a new epicenter of the pandemic.

China's National Health Commission said it confirmed zero new cases of the virus on Saturday - a first since the country began tallying infections in January - and reported only two suspected cases, one of them imported from overseas. The world's No 1 economy has more than 1.5 million cases. Brazil has also counted more than 21,000 fatal cases, almost seven times more than Peru, the region's next hardest-hit country.

Even so, she said, "we must not be lulled into complacency as our health systems are fragile and are less able to cope with a sudden increase in cases".

"We have seen many South American countries with increasing numbers of cases", World Health Organization emergencies director Mike Ryan told a virtual news conference.

The grim milestone on Friday came as the World Health Organization (WHO) called South America "a new epicentre" of the deadly virus, with the WHO's emergencies director, Mike Ryan, expressing most concern for Brazil.

The situation in South America appears graver.

Though no vaccine, or even a reliable treatment, now exists for the coronavirus, Brazilian authorities have approved widespread use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a therapeutic, after receiving shipments of raw materials for the chemical from India last month.

The low mortality rate may be because half the continent's population is 18 or younger, he said, while saying he remains anxious the disease will spread on a continent with "significant gaps" in intensive care services, medical oxygen and ventilation.

With its curve of infections and deaths rising sharply, the country of 210 million ranks third in the world in terms of total cases, behind the United States and Russian Federation.

Many experts said the rising death toll across Latin America showed the limits of government action in a region where millions labour in informal jobs and many police forces are weak or corrupt and unable to enforce restrictions.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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