/Brazil overtakes UK as country with third-highest coronavirus cases

Brazil overtakes UK as country with third-highest coronavirus cases

Brazil has overtaken the United Kingdom to become the country with the third-highest number of confirmed coronavirus infections, amid warnings from its former health minister that three painful months lie ahead.

Latin America’s largest economy has now recorded 254,220 cases, placing it behind only the United States and Russia, and ahead of the UK, which on Monday had 247,706.

Meanwhile, in Mexico – the region’s No 2 economy – allegations that Covid-19 deaths were being dramatically undercounted added fuel to an increasingly acrimonious political battle over the government’s response to the pandemic.

Brazil has officially suffered 16,792 Covid-19 deaths – the world’s sixth-highest number – although underreporting and low testing rates mean the true figure is likely to be considerably higher.

One leading newspaper, O Globo, has claimed that Brazil’s former health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, feared the death toll could eventually reach 150,000.

Despite the intensifying public health crisis, Brazilian front pages continue to be dominated by the political turmoil engulfing the far-right presidency of Jair Bolsonaro.

Two health ministers have left Bolsonaro’s administration in the space of a month, with the latest, Nelson Teich, resigning last Friday after clashing with the president. Teich’s predecessor, Mandetta, was sacked in mid-April after publicly questioning Bolsonaro’s flouting of social distancing guidelines.

In an interview with the Folha de São Paulo newspaper on Monday, Mandetta painted a bleak portrait of the situation his country faced.

“The health ministry is a ship that has lost its way,” Mandetta said, warning that Brazil was only two months into a traumatic five-month period that would only begin normalizing in September.

Mandetta predicted at least three major cities – Manaus and Belém in the Amazon and Fortaleza in the north-east – would have to impose lockdowns because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Authorities in Manaus have been forced to dig mass graves for Covid-19 victims because of the soaring number of deaths.

Bolsonaro’s deliberate undermining of social distancing and quarantine measures has sparked outrage and seen opposition to his government rise – although the rightwing populist continues to boast a hardcore of support.

Miguel Lago, the director of Brazil’s Institute for Health Policy Studies, said he feared the political upheaval was compromising efforts to save lives.

“It’s terrible to see that Brazil is more worried about politics than with health … It’s absurd that in the middle of a humanitarian crisis we are discussing petty politics so much,” he said.

“But I think this is Bolsonaro’s strategy,” Lago added, arguing that the president was trying to distract from and disown the negative human and economic impact of the pandemic.

“There are many important discussions we should be having. How can we fight the economic crisis? How can we fight the health crisis? How can we improve our health system during and after the coronavirus crisis? How can we deal with the loss of 10% of our GDP? But none of those discussions are taking place. All we are discussing is politics,” Lago complained.

Health workers of 20 de Noviembre hospital bid farewell to stretcher-bearer Hugo López Camacho, who died of Covid-19, in Mexico City, on Monday.

Health workers bid farewell to stretcher-bearer Hugo López Camacho, who died of Covid-19, in Mexico City, on Monday. Photograph: Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images

The pandemic has also become the subject of a bitter political row in Mexico, which has so far officially registered 51,633 coronavirus infections and 5,332 deaths.

But a review of death certificates in Mexico City published by investigative journalists suggests an undercounting of Covid-19 deaths by a factor of three – at a time when the country is preparing to reopen and the president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is speaking confidently of “taming” the coronavirus.

Reporters from the anti-graft group Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity gained access to Mexico City death certificates and found 4,577 cases where physicians listed the probable or possible cause of death as Covid-19 or coronavirus. That figure is more than triple the 1,332 confirmed deaths in Mexico City that are acknowledged by the federal government.

The investigation follows a series of stories alleging that Mexico is undercounting its Covid-19 deaths.

Mexico City’s government has denied any deliberate undercounting and the country’s coronavirus tsar, Hugo López-Gatell, has admitted Mexico probably has more than eight times more Covid-19 deaths than officially recorded.

“We have a bureaucratic and Jurassic system for data capture,” said Xavier Tello, a physician and healthcare analyst, offering a partial explanation for the difficulties in compiling the Covid-19 death toll. Information is often handwritten, he added, and prone to errors and discretion. “We have a 21st-century pandemic, followed by 1980s means.”

On Tuesday, López Obrador again dismissed criticism of his government’s response. “For us, the strategy has been successful,” he said.

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