RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – Brazil passed the bleak milestone of one million coronavirus cases Friday, reporting a new one-day record number of infections as the pandemic continues to surge in Latin America s largest country.
The health ministry said it had recorded 54,771 new infections, a jump it said was largely due to “instability” in its reporting system, which meant some states were reporting figures from multiple days.
That brought the total number of infections in Brazil to 1,032,913, with 48,954 deaths — second only to the United States worldwide.
Experts say under-testing means the real numbers are probably much higher.
Despite the grim figures, the infection curve in Brazil is finally showing signs of flattening.
But the country of 212 million people is one of the most worrying hotspots in the pandemic.
Since the start of June, it has registered the most new infections and deaths of any country in the world, according to an AFP count based on official figures — more than 518,000 and 19,000, respectively.
It has recorded daily death tolls of more than 1,000 on each of the past four days.
Brazil has struggled to set a strategy for dealing with the pandemic.
President Jair Bolsonaro, who has famously compared the virus to a “little flu,” has clashed with state and local authorities over their use of stay-at-home measures and business closures to contain it.
The far-right leader argues the economic impact of such measures risks being worse than the virus itself, and has instead pushed his health ministry to recommend chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as treatments, despite uncertainty about the anti-malaria drugs effectiveness against COVID-19.
Bolsonaro threatened this month to quit the World Health Organization, accusing it of “ideological bias” against the drugs, and has ditched two health ministers since the start of the pandemic after clashing over policy differences.
The health minister he fired in April, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, told AFP Brazilians have suffered because of mixed messages from the government.
“The health ministry and state governors are telling people to stay home and practice social distancing, and the president is saying and doing the opposite,” he said.
A year and a half into his term, Bolsonaro has been weakened by the pandemic, as well as a series of investigations targeting him and his inner circle and spiraling clashes with Congress and the Supreme Court.
The World Bank meanwhile forecasts Latin America s biggest economy will shrink by a record eight percent this year.