Brazil coronavirus toll surges to third-highest in world

A health worker conducts a coronavirus test in Manaus, Brazil, on May 29, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - Brazil's death toll from the novel coronavirus has surged past 34,000 to become the third-highest in the world, surpassing Italy's, according to official figures released Thursday (June 4).

The South American country reported a new record of 1,473 deaths in 24 hours, bringing its overall toll to 34,021, behind only the United States and Britain.

Brazil has now confirmed 614,941 infections, the health ministry said - the second-largest caseload in the world, behind the US.

Experts say under-testing in Brazil means the real numbers are probably much higher.

The nation of 210 million people has become an epicentre of the virus, which has eased in other parts of the world but continues to spread across Latin America.

The region now accounts for about 40 per cent of the world's daily virus deaths.

Despite the record numbers, many parts of Brazil have begun phasing out quarantines, including Sao Paulo, the hotspot of Brazil's outbreak: the state has reported 8,561 deaths.

But Thursday afternoon the mayor of the capital of Sao Paulo announced all offices and car dealerships may open starting Friday.

In Rio de Janeiro the mayor announced Thursday that the city's 14,000 street vendors can also return to work.

Ongoing political sparring between governors and President Jair Bolsonaro has further added to the confusion on virus response efforts.

Mr Bolsonaro has been against isolation measures from the start, arguing that the economic toll of the crisis could be worse than the disease and sometimes pointing to Sweden's similar approach as his model.

On Wednesday, the Nordic country's top epidemiologist said his strategy to fight Covid-19 resulted in too many deaths.

The virus continues to spread across the vast country.

Close to three-quarters of Brazilian cities have now reported positive cases, and the Health Ministry said last week that the curve was still growing.

On Thursday the governor of Mato Grosso stated announced he had tested positive for the virus; he is the seventh Brazilian governor to test positive.

As the numbers rise, so does the concern that the pandemic is now reaching parts of the country with remedial health systems, like the impoverished hinterlands of the country's north-east.

Covid-19 has also reached further into more isolated communities, such as indigenous territories.

The approaching winter season in the Southern Hemisphere could increase the frequency of colds and the flu, further aggravating the outbreak.

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