Worsening outbreak comes as President Jair Bolsonaro, who has played down COVID-19, pressures state governors to reopen.
Brazil has recorded its deadliest day yet from the coronavirus with 881 confirmed deaths in 24 hours and confirmed cases exceeding Germany’s, as President Jair Bolsonaro fought states over his push to ease lockdown restrictions.
Brazil’s health ministry confirmed at least 12,400 deaths from the virus as of Tuesday, while the number of cases hit 177,589, passing Germany’s 170,508 cases and drawing close to France, which has reported 178,225 confirmed and probable cases.
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Europe is beginning to lift lockdowns as the death toll in the region eases, but the outbreak is still accelerating in Brazil, where Bolsonaro has played down the risks of the disease and criticised state governments’ isolation orders.
Bolsonaro this week ratcheted up his dispute with state governors, with a decree classifying businesses such as gyms and hair salons as “essential” services, making them exempt from lockdowns.
The right-wing president has argued that the economic damage from closing businesses is worse than the disease.
“Governors who do not agree with the decree can file lawsuits in court,” Bolsonaro wrote on social media. He later threatened to take his own legal action against them if they did not comply.
At least 10 governors said they would not follow the decree.
“Bolsonaro is walking toward the precipice and wants to take all of us with him,” Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel said on Twitter.
Bolsonaro, who called the virus a “little flu,” has insisted for more than a month that governors are stoking economic carnage with voluntary quarantine recommendations and has urged Brazilians to go about their daily lives.
Bolsonaro’s popularity has suffered since the crisis began, polls show. Disapproval of the president rose to more than 55 percent in a survey released on Tuesday, from 47 percent in January.
An investigation authorised by the Supreme Court into Bolsonaro’s alleged efforts to meddle with police investigations has also eroded his support and distracted from the country’s pandemic response.
Bolsonaro won election in 2018 on pledges to clean up politics and make sweeping market-friendly reforms to restore economic growth after a deep recession – plans derailed by the pandemic.
Sources told Reuters news agency the government would soon slash its 2020 economic outlook, predicting a more than 4 percent drop in gross domestic product, after a previous forecast for flat growth.
Brazil has passed Germany in confirmed cases even as its testing lags far behind both.
As of Monday, Brazil had processed nearly 338,000 novel coronavirus tests in three months at official labs, said the Health Ministry. Another 145,000 tests were under analysis or backlogged.
By contrast, Germany’s certified labs tested more than 330,000 samples last week alone and have the capacity to test around 838,000 samples every week.
France has also invested in testing to boost capacity to approximately 700,000 tests per week.
A coronavirus mortality model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) predicts more than 88,000 deaths from the coronavirus in Brazil by August.
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