RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP, REUTERS) - The coronavirus death toll in Brazil surpassed 20,000 on Thursday (May 21), after a record number of fatalities in a 24-hour period, the health ministry said.
The country is the epicentre of the outbreak in Latin America, and its highest one-day toll of 1,188 pushed the overall death tally to 20,047.
Brazil has now recorded more than 310,000 cases, with experts saying a lack of testing means the real figures are probably much higher.
With its curve of infections and deaths rising sharply, the country of 210 million ranks third in the world in terms of total cases, behind the United States and Russia.
The death toll - the sixth highest worldwide - has doubled in just 11 days, according to ministry data.
Despite the worrying spread of the disease, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday continued his calls to scrap lockdown measures to revive the country's flagging economy. But almost all of the country's 27 states are under some sort of lockdown order, though Brazilians are wearying of the restrictions in place since the end of March.
Sao Paulo state, the economic and cultural capital of Brazil, is by far the most affected area, with about a quarter of the country's deaths and infections.
The virus's impact has accelerated in Rio de Janeiro state in recent days.
Bolsonaro is under growing pressure for his handling of the outbreak, which looks set to destroy the Brazilian economy and threatens his re-election hopes.
Bolsonaro said he will approve on Thursday or Friday a 60 billion-real (S$15.3 billion) federal aid programme for states and cities hit by the coronavirus but asked governors for support freezing public sector pay increases.
The Bill to distribute federal money to states and municipalities was approved by Congress earlier this month.
However, Bolsonaro has not signed off on it due to pressure from Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, an avowed free-marketeer who wants more fiscal austerity.
In return for signing off on the aid package, Bolsonaro asked governors for their backing in specific measures freezing public sector pay increases for two years.
Speaking later on Thursday, Bolsonaro said it was normal for politicians to begin to lose some popularity after more than a year in office.