(Natural News) Officials confirmed last week that Brazil has passed one million coronavirus cases, making it the second country – after the U.S. – to reach the grim milestone. To note, the U.S. still leads in global caseload, reaching two million infections early this month.
The Ministry of Health also reported a record of 54,771 new cases on Friday, which the ministry attributed to system corrections in some states. Brazil’s total caseload is now at 1,106,470 as of June 22, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
According to public health experts, the upswing in new cases is linked to reopenings and social distancing measures being lifted. In Rio de Janeiro, people flocked the city’s famous beaches over the weekend, with many neither wearing masks nor practicing social distancing. The city, as well as its eponymous state, has 97,572 cases and 8,933 deaths – among the highest in the country.
Pandemic shows no signs of stopping
With 654 new deaths reported Monday, Brazil’s death toll has risen to more than 50,000. Based on the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Brazil is on track to overtake the U.S. as the country with the world’s deadliest outbreak by the end of summer.
The latest estimates from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) indicate that Brazil will top 1.3 million cases by the end of the month. In addition, the PUC-Rio model predicts that total deaths will reach 57,000 during the same period.
Public health experts also believe that Brazil’s actual caseload could be up to seven times higher than the official numbers. To note, the country has a testing rate of 11,814 per million people – the lowest, next to India, among the 10 worst-hit nations in the world. In comparison, the U.S. has a testing rate of 87,706 per million, and Russia – which ranks third – has a rate of 120,074 per million.
Political infighting has further complicated Brazil’s response to the pandemic. Despite the ballooning figures, President Jair Bolsonaro remains obstinate in his refusal to implement new measures to mitigate the infection. This has led to states – especially those allied to the president – to lift lockdowns, even as cases soar. Epidemiologists have warned that lifting the measures makes it harder to pinpoint when the disease will peak in the country. (Related: Latin America the new epicenter of coronavirus pandemic.)
The president’s jobs-over-pandemic approach has led to clashes with state institutions. While the coronavirus ravaged the country, the Health Ministry has gone through two ministers, all of whom have resigned after conflicts with Bolsonaro over disagreements on handling the pandemic.
Coronavirus will hit the economy hard
Economists also warn that a second wave of infections can sink the country’s economy even further.
The latest report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that Brazil’s economy will contract by 10 percent, should another wave of cases emerge. The World Bank has a similar forecast, saying that the economy will shrink by 8 percent this year should broad shutdown measures continue.
Having the economy slump at this level can further plunge the country into turmoil, with experts warning of corporate bankruptcies, soaring government debt and surging unemployment.
“The economy was already fragile before the pandemic. Many state and municipal governments were unable to even pay the payroll,” explained Marcos de Barros Lisboa, an economist based in Sao Paolo. “Now, the fiscal deficit and public debt will not stop increasing this year.”
In response, the Ministry of Economy implemented a $120 monthly stipend for low-income and informal workers affected by the shutdowns. The government is in talks to develop this into a broader basic income scheme; however, its implementation is hampered by the country’s fragile finances. In another blow to Bolsonaro’s government, his chief architect for his fiscal policy, Treasury Secretary Mansueto Almeida, has said that he will step down this week.
Pandemic.news has more on the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.