Foreign Desk Report
BEONIS AIRES: Brazil has seen a record number of coronavirus deaths as the pandemic that has swept across the world begins to hit Latin America with its full force.
After Asia, Europe and North America, Latin America has seen coronavirus infections surge in recent days and now accounts for about 580,000 of the world’s nearly five million confirmed cases.
Brazil has been hardest-hit in the region, rising to the third-highest number of cases in the world, as Peru, Mexico and Chile also see steady increases in infections. Health officials in Brazil reported 1,179 new coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, the first time the daily toll exceeded 1,000, but far-right President Jair Bolsonaro remains bitterly opposed to lockdowns, having described them as unnecessary over a “little flu”. With the outbreak in the world’s sixth-largest country expected to accelerate until early June, many Brazilians are deeply worried about the next few weeks.
“Our country is going from bad to worse,” said retiree Gilberto Ferreira in Rio de Janeiro. “We have an inefficient government, and the people also do not obey the rules of the pandemic.” Bolsonaro has refused to accept experts’ advice on responding to the pandemic, pressing regional governors to end stay-at-home measures. And like US counterpart Donald Trump he has promoted the use of anti-malaria drugs against the virus despite studies showing they have no benefit and could have dangerous side effects.
New federal guidelines released by Brazil’s health ministry on Wednesday recommended doctors prescribe the drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, from the onset of coronavirus symptoms. Chile is also suffering from a sharp rise in cases and deployed soldiers on the outskirts of its locked-down capital Santiago after clashes with protesters angry about food shortages and job losses.
“People don’t have work, they don’t have money and they don’t have food,” said Monica Sepulveda, a 46-year-old unemployed security guard from El Bosque, a working class neighbourhood where residents armed with clubs and stones clashed with riot police. There were worrying signs in Argentina too, with authorities in the second city Cordoba having to backtrack on easing lockdown measures following a sharp spike in infections. Experts have been warning for weeks of the devastating impact the pandemic is set to have as it moves from northern countries to the less-developed south.