(Natural News) Brazil has the most number of COVID-19 cases outside the United States. The country now has a total of 391,222 people who have been infected by the Wuhan coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The Ministry of Health also reported 965 new deaths Sunday, bringing the country’s death toll to 22,013 – the sixth-highest worldwide – although experts believe the actual number is much higher. While the figures were lower than Thursday’s record of 1,188 deaths, these also showed that Brazil’s total deaths had now doubled, compared to two weeks ago.
The grim milestone comes in the middle of a bitter political dispute between President Jair Bolsonaro and state leaders on whether to ease restrictions or implement a tighter cordon sanitaire. The Brazilian president has been sharply criticized for his handling of the outbreak, in particular, his opposition to social distancing and his ongoing spat with public health officials.
Coronavirus hits meatpacking plant
In southern Brazil, hundreds of meatpacking workers tested positive for COVID-19. The facility – run by food conglomerate BRF S.A. – reported in a statement Monday that around 340 people, or 6.6 percent of its workers, have been infected.
According to BRF, all plants in the country will remain operational, as it signed commitments with labor prosecutors to increase worker protections at meatpacking facilities. Other food companies in the country have followed suit, even as they have been facing outbreaks in their own facilities.
U.S. bans travel to Brazil, citing coronavirus concerns
On Sunday, the U.S. banned flights from Brazil, citing the latter’s surging number of cases. In recent weeks, Latin America’s largest country has experienced a surge in new cases and deaths.
“Today’s action will help ensure foreign nationals who have been in Brazil do not become a source of additional infections in our country,” said Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who added that the restrictions would not affect bilateral trade.
Cabinet meeting expletive-riddled, but does not mention coronavirus
Last week, a video of a recent cabinet meeting – in which Bolsonaro and his cabinet made little mention of the pandemic – sparked national outrage in Brazil. In the videotaped meeting, the only time that the coronavirus pandemic was mentioned was when Environment Minister Ricardo Salles called on the government to take advantage of the situation to further weaken environmental protection rules.
“We need to make an effort while we are in this calm moment in terms of press coverage, because they are only talking about COVID, and push through and change all the rules and simplify norms,” Salles said in the video.
Critics say that the video – released as part of an ongoing probe into whether Bolsonaro fired his federal police chief to stifle corruption allegations against him – showed the “vulgarity of the government.”
Bolsonaro was also heard calling two state governors a “piece of s**t” and a “pile of manure” for continuing to impose stay-at-home measures.
The embattled president has continued to push for businesses to reopen, even as state governors urge social distancing measures. (Related: Latin American countries raise alarms about Brazil as border towns report spikes in new coronavirus cases.)
He has previously called the virus “a little flu,” and has said that placing the country on lockdown will destroy the economy.
“We have to be brave to face this virus. Are people dying? Yes they are, and I regret that. But many more are going to die if the economy continues to be destroyed because of these [lockdown] measures,” he said in a May 14 interview.
In Brazil, a person potentially infected with COVID-19 is tested after showing three symptoms, which public health experts say could be too late.
“Mostly the test is done when the person is already in an advanced stage of the disease,” Renata Alves, a volunteer health worker, added.
Pandemic.news has more on the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.