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Brazil could be the next coronavirus hotspot

Cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) are surging in Brazil, causing Latin America’s largest country to veer closer to becoming the next coronavirus hotspot. All over the country, hospitals, morgues and cemeteries already inundated with mounting caseloads.

Brazil currently has around 67,000 cases and 4,600 deaths according to a running tally by the Johns Hopkins University. In Rio de Janeiro and at least four other major cities, medical officers have warned that their hospital systems are either on the verge of collapse, or are too overwhelmed to accept any more patients.

“We have all the conditions here for the pandemic to become much more serious,” stated Paulo Brandao, a virologist at the University of Sao Paulo.

Number of infected could be in the hundreds of thousands to millions

By official counts, the country’s worst day was Thursday, with about 3,700 new cases and more than 400 deaths. However, experts warned that the numbers are actually much higher due to insufficient, delayed testing. Because it takes a long time for tests to be processed, current numbers actually reflect cases and deaths from one or two weeks ago, said Domingos Alves, adjunct professor of social medicine at the University of Sao Paulo.

“We are looking at a photo of the past,” stated Alves. “The number of cases in Brazil is, therefore, probably even greater than what we are predicting.”

According to scientists from the University of Sao PaoloUniversity of Brasilia and other institutions, the true number of people infected with the coronavirus as of this week could be as high as 587,000 to 1.1 million people.

Brazil’s health ministry stated in a report earlier this month that it only has the capacity to test 6,700 people per day. This is a far cry from the roughly 40,000 it is expected to need when the virus peaks.

“We should do many more tests than we’re doing, but the laboratory here is working at full steam,” explained Keny Colares, an infectious disease specialist at the Hospital Sao Jose who has also been advising state officials on the pandemic response.

All over the country, stories of patients being shuffled around as hospitals try to find space for them are beginning to emerge. One such story is that of Rodrigo Bessa’s mother Edenir. The elder Bessa, a retiree from Rio’s working-class Mangueira favela, was turned away from two full urgent care facilities before finally gaining admission at a third one located 25 miles away.

Hours later, she was transferred by ambulance almost all the way back, to another facility, the Ronaldo Gazzola hospital, where she eventually died.

Bessa’s death was recorded as being caused by a suspected case of COVID-19, meaning that that — like so many others — it doesn’t figure into the government’s official tally. She wasn’t the only one who died of a suspected infection at the hospital.

When he went to pick his mother’s body up, the younger Bessa confirmed that he “saw a lot of bodies also suspected of [having] COVID-19 in the hospital’s basement.”

“People need to believe that this is serious, that it kills,” Bessa added.

Brazilian president continues to insist COVID-19 isn’t a threat

All this time, Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro has continued to insist that COVID-19 is a relatively minor disease and that social distancing is unnecessary to stop it. Bolsonaro has said that only Brazilians at high risk should be isolated.

Bolsonaro’s stance is seen to echo that of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been pushing to put people back to work as unemployment approaches Great Depression-era levels. However, unlike Trump – who has been willing to moderate his stance based on the words of his advisers – Bolsonaro seems less willing to listen to his. Last week, the Brazilian president fired his former health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who had supported tough antivirus measures, replacing him with an advocate for reopening the economy.

At the swearing-in of his newly appointed health minister Nelson Teich, Bolsonaro claimed that the fight reopen business “is a risk that I run.” He also said that if the pandemic escalates, “it lands on my lap.”

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