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Thursday May 21 2020
By
Reuters

Global coronavirus cases surpass 5mn as pandemic battleground shifts to South America

By
Reuters
Gravediggers carry the coffin of Antonia Rodrigues during her funeral who passed away from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Reuters

Confirmed coronavirus cases in the world jumped past five million as Latin American overtook the United States and Europe to become the new pandemic battleground. 

It represents a new phase in the virus’ spread, which initially peaked in China in February, before large-scale outbreaks followed in Europe and the United States.

Latin America accounted for around a third of the 91,000 cases reported earlier this week. Europe and the United States each accounted for just over 20%.

A large number of those new cases came from Brazil, which recently surpassed Germany, France and the United Kingdom to become the third-largest outbreak in the world, behind the United States and Russia.

Cases in Brazil are now rising at a daily pace second only to the United States.

The first 41 cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Wuhan, China, on January 10 and it took the world until April 1 to reach its first million cases. Since then, about 1 million new cases are reported every two weeks, according to a Reuters tally.

At more than five million cases, the virus has infected more people in under six months than the annual total of severe flu cases, which the World Health Organisation estimates is around three million to five million globally.

The pandemic has claimed over 326,000 lives, though the true number is thought to be higher as testing is still limited and many countries do not include fatalities outside of hospitals. Over half of the total fatalities have been recorded in Europe.

Despite the continued increase in cases, many countries are opening schools and workplaces following weeks of lockdown that have stemmed the spread.

Financial markets have also been boosted slightly by promising early results from the first US vaccine trial in humans.

Brazil coronavirus outbreak worsens 

Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak worsened on Wednesday and the South American nation could soon have the second-highest number of cases in the world as the Health Ministry reported 888 new deaths and nearly 20,000 new infections in a single day.

Brazil might soon trail only the United States in the number of coronavirus cases. Russia currently has the second-highest number of cases. Brazil’s coronavirus death toll is 18,859.

Brazil’s confirmed case tally now stands at 291,579, according to the Health Ministry. On Monday, Brazil overtook Britain to become the country with the third-highest number of infections and registered a daily record of 1,179 deaths on Tuesday.

President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for his handling of the outbreak. The far-right former army captain has long snubbed social-distancing measures, arguing instead for the reopening the economy.

He has also become an increasingly strong advocate for the malaria drug chloroquine as a possible remedy for COVID-19, despite warnings from health experts.

On Wednesday, the Health Ministry issued new guidelines for wider use of anti-malarial drugs in mild coronavirus cases.

Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, an active-duty army general, authorized the modified protocol after two trained doctors left the ministry’s top job under pressure to promote the early use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.

“We are at war. Worse than defeat would be the shame of not putting up a fight,” Bolsonaro tweeted about the government decision to put forward the drugs without proof of their effectiveness.

Gonzalo Vecina Neto, the former head of Brazil’s health regulator, Anvisa, called the new measures a “barbarity” that could cause more harm than good because of the dangerous potential side effects of the drug.

“It has no scientific evidence,” Vecina Neto told Reuters. “(It is) unbelievable that in the 21st century, we are living off magical thinking.”