Coronavirus: Brazil becomes second country to pass 1 million cases

Health experts believe true number of infections much higher because of under-reporting

Kate Ng
Saturday 20 June 2020 16:36 BST
Brazil start reopening malls after lockdown

Brazil has confirmed more than 1 million coronavirus cases, making it the second country to record the mammoth figure after the US.

The country’s health ministry said on Friday that the total stood at 1,032,913, an increase of more than 50,000 from the day before. The alarming increase was due to corrections of under-reported numbers in previous days, said the ministry.

Over 1,200 deaths were recorded for the fourth day in a row, pushing the death toll to nearly 49,000.

But health experts believe the actual number of cases in Brazil could be up to seven times higher than the official statistic. John Hopkins University said the country is performing an average of 14 tests per 100,000 people per day, as much as 20 times less than what is needed to track the virus.

Alexandre Naime Barbosa, a medical professor at Sao Paulo State University, told Sky News that the true figure is unknown because of “under-reporting of a magnitude of five to 10 times”.

“The true number [of cases] is probably at least 3 million and could even be as high as 10 million people,” he said.

But the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, still downplayed the impact of the virus, saying the effects of lockdown measures on the economy could be worse than the disease itself.

Miguel Lago, executive director of Brazil’s Institute for Health Policy Studies, which advises public health officials, told Associated Press that poorer healthcare in smaller cities is exacerbating the outbreak.

“There is a lot of regional inequality in our public health system and a shortage of professionals in the interior. That creates many healthcare deserts, with people going long distances to get attention. When they leave the hospital, the virus can go with them,” he said.

Pressure from Mr Bolsonaro and other political leaders to reopen the economy has led to some regions lifting restrictions, but the increasing number of cases has given governors pause for thought.

The mayor of Porto Alegre, Nelson Marchezan Jr, told AP that the city’s authorities were “already making projections for schools to come back” but are now considering more restrictions and increasing social isolation measures after ICU occupancy leapt to 80 per cent this month.

Outside the city of Sao Paulo, five regions of the state’s countryside will have to close shops starting on Monday, announced its governor, Joao Doria, on Friday.

The World Health Organisation’s executive director, Dr Mike Ryan, told a news conference that Brazil must increase its efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“The epidemic is still quite severe in Brazil,” he said. “I believe health workers are working extremely hard and under pressure to be able to deal with the number of cases that they see on a daily basis.

“Certainly the rise is not as exponential as it was previously, so there are some signs that the situation is stabilising, but we’ve seen this before in other epidemics in other countries.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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