Brazil could become next Covid-19 hotspot as President plays down crisis

28 April 2020, 06:50

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Brazil looks set to become the next big hot spot for Covid-19 amid president Jair Bolsonaro's insistence that it is just a "little flu".

The President said he sees no need for his country to follow strict restrictions which have slowed the rate of coronavirus infection in Europe and the United States.

Many nations have restricted movement or imposed country-wide lockdown in a bid to halt the spread of the pandemic.

But, Brazil's president, has consistently downplayed the crisis, saying the new coronavirus is nothing but a "little flu" that has to be faced “realistically”.

“That's life," he said. "We're all going to die someday."

But there have been warnings the outbreak is intensifying in Brazil with hospitals struggling and signs that a growing number of victims are now dying at home.

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Paulo Brandao, a virologist at the University of Sao Paulo, said: "We have all the conditions here for the pandemic to become much more serious."

Brazil has officially reported about 4,500 deaths and almost 67,000 confirmed infections.

But the true numbers there, as in many other countries, are believed to be vastly higher given the lack of testing and the many people without severe symptoms who have not sought hospital care.

Some scientists said over a million people in Brazil are probably infected as the country heads into winter, which can worsen respiratory illnesses.

Mr Bolsonaro has disputed the seriousness of the coronavirus and said people need to resume their lives to prevent an economic meltdown.

But most state governors in the country have adopted restrictions to slow the spread and pushed people to stay at home.

In mid-April, Mr Bolsonaro fired his popular health minister after a series of disagreements over efforts to contain the virus, replacing him with an advocate for reopening the economy.

Medical officials in Rio de Janeiro and at least four other major cities have warned that their hospital systems are on the verge of collapse or too overwhelmed to take any more patients.

Officials in Sao Paulo - the largest city in South America, a tightly packed metropolitan area of over 21 million residents, many living in poverty - have issued death certificates over the past two weeks for 236 people who succumbed at home, double the number before the outbreak, according to the SAMU paramedic service.

Manaus, an Amazon city of 1.8 million, recorded 142 deaths on Sunday, including 41 who died at home.

Meanwhile, Brazil's funeral industry warned last week that the city was running out of coffins and "there could soon be corpses left on corners".