Brazil sets daily record with almost 68,000 new Covid-19 cases

Health workers take blood samples at a testing site for Covid-19 in Rio de Janeiro on Friday. (AP pic)

BRASILIA: Brazil recorded a new daily record of coronavirus cases Wednesday with nearly 68,000 infections, a sign Covid-19 is still far from being brought under control in the hard-hit country.

The health ministry said 67,860 new infections and 1,284 deaths had been reported in the past 24 hours in Brazil, which has the second-biggest outbreak in the world after the US.

The South American country of 212 million people has recorded 2.2 million infections and 82,771 deaths from the new coronavirus since confirming its first case five months ago.

Experts say under-testing means the real numbers are probably much higher.

Brazil has struggled to set a strategy for responding to the pandemic.

President Jair Bolsonaro faces criticism for downplaying the virus and attacking social distancing measures adopted by state and local authorities.

The far-right leader, who has regularly flouted such measures by hitting the streets maskless for rallies by his supporters, has been in quarantine at the presidential palace since July 7 after contracting the virus himself.

His office announced Wednesday he had again tested positive, saying he would continue his quarantine and suspend his upcoming travel plans.

Bolsonaro, 65, argues the economic fallout from stay-at-home measures could be worse than the virus itself, and is instead pushing the unproven malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as remedies, following in the footsteps of US President Donald Trump.

Margareth Dalcomo, an expert at Brazil’s leading public health institute, Fiocruz, said Bolsonaro’s hydroxychloroquine-pushing was “deplorable”.

“This politicisation of the drug by the US and Brazilian presidents for murky reasons has no justification, and it deceives people,” she told AFP.

“It has been proven this drug has no effect against Covid-19.”

Bolsonaro is on his third health minister since the pandemic reached Brazil five months ago, after falling out with two doctors who previously held the post over their recommendations on containing the virus.

The current minister, an interim, is Eduardo Pazuello, an army general with no prior medical experience.

The World Health Organization voiced optimism last week that the outbreak in Brazil had finally reached a plateau, urging the country to use the opportunity to “take control”.

But though the level of daily infections and deaths has stabilised, it remains high.

The country has recorded an average of more than 37,000 infections and 1,050 deaths a day over the past week.

Its previous daily infection record was 54,771, on June 19.

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