Brazil Blows Past 1 Million Infections With No Peak in Sight

Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak reached the mark of 1 million infections as the disease shows no clear signs of slowing in Latin America’s largest nation months after the first cases were recorded.

The country registered a record 54,771 cases on Friday, bringing the total to 1,032,913. The data compiled by Brazilian states also showed 1,206 fatalities, pushing the toll to 48,954. In both counts, Brazil trails only the U.S. globally.

Brazil’s response to the pandemic, plagued by political infighting andmismatched quarantine orders, has made it harder for experts to pinpoint when the disease will peak in the country of 210 million people. With cases moving inland and into poorer regions while more cities lift restrictions, concern is growing that the disease will see a new surge.Estimates from PUC University in Rio de Janeiro show cases will likely top 1.3 million by late June.

“Brazil followed the path to disaster,” said Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian neuroscientist who’s helping the Northeastern states coordinate their response. “You could see Brazil would become a hotspot in April. We watched the world go through it and did nothing.”

The virus first appeared in Brazil in late February, when a Sao Paulo businessman returned from a trip to Europe. In the past three weeks, the country passed Spain, Italy and the U.K. in number of fatalities, which now is second only to the U.S. Infections have more than doubled in the span. And a recent study showed the illness may be far more widespread than official figures suggest. Researchers at the University of Pelotas in southern Brazilestimate there are six unreported cases for every one confirmed diagnosis across 120 cities studied.

Activity data, meanwhile, continue to show the devastation the outbreak is inflicting on the economy. On Thursday the central bank’s economic activity index for April, seen as a proxy for gross domestic product, tumbled 15.09% from the previous year. It added to plunges in indicators from industry toservices released over the last few weeks.

Concern about the pandemic’s toll on activity has been at the center of President Jair Bolsonaro’s push to reopen the economy, leading to fights between the president and local governments.

Depression Warning

On Wednesday, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes warned the country’s recession could turn into a depression if Brazil doesn’t shift its focus back to structural reforms that are the cornerstone of his agenda. Those plans were put on hold as the coronavirus shifted government efforts from belt-tightening to emergency spending.

Hours later, Brazilian policy makers cut the benchmark Selic rate by 75 basis points to a record low of 2.25% in their eighth straight reduction. The central bank also left the door open to more monetary easing amid growing doubts that the economy would quickly recover from the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Read more: Brazil Nods to More Easing Amid Surging Pessimism on Economy

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Developmentsees Brazil’s GDP contracting 7.4% this year, though the drop could reach 9.1% if there’s a second wave of the virus as the country reopens.

Reopening

Growing economic pressure has led more and more cities to reopen even without a clear decline in cases. Rio de Janeiro’s Health Secretary Fernando Ferry said this week that while the reopening will likely lead to a new wave of cases, it’s necessary: The state will soon run out of money to even pay doctors if tax collection doesn’t improve, according to G1 website.

On Thursday, the health ministry said it was seeing some stabilization of the curve, a sign deaths could soon begin to decline. But scenes of crowded streets and shops have worried health experts. The number still has to be watched over the next few weeks to see if the trend holds, says biologist Atila Iamarino.

“I hope it’s a plateau and we’ll start to see cases decline, but that’s unlikely,” he said. Since the start of the pandemic, the University of Sao Paulo and Yale educated Iamarino has been discussing the disease with the 2 million followers on his YouTube science channel. “We’re restarting things too soon, at a delicate time for the pandemic.”

PUC University estimates that by the end of June, Brazil will have recorded more than 57,000 deaths. Iamarino says that if the curve begins to flatten now, that number will be somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 by September.

“We’re crossing the 1 million mark with many more that go underreported,” he said. “And the same goes for deaths. We have lost much more than 50,000 lives.”

— With assistance by Martha Viotti Beck, and Rachel Gamarski

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