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COVID-19 cases in Brazil surpass 1 million amid ballooning caseload

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-06-21 12:34
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BRASILIA -- Brazil's COVID-19 cases surpassed 1 million on Friday with nearly 49,000 deaths, making the country the world's second hardest-hit after the United States.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Latin America currently accounts for half of the number of new cases in the world, and the epidemiological curve in Brazil is showing no sign of flattening.

Brazil's Health Ministry said Thursday that the spread of the coronavirus in the country was "in the process of stabilizing," but this expectation was shattered, as a new record number of 54,771 cases were registered just a day later.

Jose David Urbaez Brito, scientific director at the Federal District branch of the Brazilian Society of Infectious Diseases, said that it is still too early to say whether Brazil has reached the peak of contagion. With economies reopening in various states, there could be an even further increase in cases.

"Activities are returning with a very significant circulation of people, and the virus continues to spread," Urbaez said in an interview with Xinhua.

"We are still far from the peak, because the peak depends a lot on measures to stop the spread and reduce cases and deaths. That depends on taking more restrictive, more intense social isolation measures," he added.

Studies also show that the number of infected people could in fact be higher than official figures, as mild symptoms and reduced tests may cause many cases to slip through the cracks.

This week, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics estimated that 22 million Brazilians may have COVID-19-like symptoms, but it is uncertain whether all of them were actually infected with the disease.

The pandemic in Brazil has its own trajectory. During the first few weeks, cases were concentrated among the middle and upper classes, who often travelled abroad, in large urban centers such as Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia.

The pandemic gradually became "internalized," affecting all regions of the country and penetrating populous neighborhoods and favelas, where overcrowding and the lack of basic services increased the risk of contagion.

Experts said that the country's most vulnerable people find it difficult to take necessary preventive measures, with many people working in the informal sector and living largely hand to mouth.

"These people lack everything they need, like soap and water for proper hygiene," said Urbaez, adding that in addition to the lack of "housing infrastructure" for self-quarantine, they have to "go out and expose themselves at work" due to the lack of basic income protection.

"If they don't work, they have no means of survival," Urbaez added.

Starting from April, the government granted emergency aid of 600 reais (around 113 U.S. dollars) a month for three months to informal workers, but many people reported problems in accessing the money.

In recent weeks, a number of Brazilian states authorized the reopening of economic activity.

According to the expert, the priority should be to create a structure to carry out massive testing, and to mandate further social distancing and quarantine measures.

"The ideal would be a deep closure, allowing only essential activities and a universal basic income support program and support for businesses, continuing isolation until there is a major downturn, and then opening activities with a lot of monitoring and lots of testing," he added.

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