BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil passed the mark of 5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday as it approached 150,000 deaths in the second most deathly coronavirus outbreak outside the United States.
Though the number of daily cases has come down from a peak in July, public health experts warn that Brazil is ignoring social distancing precautions and faces the danger of a second wave by returning to normal everyday life too quickly.
The Health Ministry reported on Tuesday 31,553 new cases, raising the total to 5,000,694, and 734 deaths, bringing the toll to 148,228 dead.
The rolling daily average for last week was 658 deaths a day, down from 1,073 deaths per day in the last week of July. Average new cases were 26,140 day, almost half the rate of late July.
Federal University of Rio de Janeiro epidemiologist Roberto Medronho cautioned that the numbers could be much higher if testing for COVID-19 was more widespread.
“Soon we will reach 150,0000 deaths, a frightening number,” he told Reuters. “We are seeing the authorities easing social distancing more and more despite the number of cases.”
Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has played down the gravity of the virus, even though he was infected and had to isolate for two weeks. Bolsonaro has opposed lockdowns and encourage Brazilians to get back to their normal lives so the economy can recover from what is expected to be its deepest annual slump on record.
As winter ends and tropical temperatures rise, Brazilians are gathering on crowded beaches and in bars and restaurants without taking precautions, he warned.
“I fear we’ll have a second wave like in Europe, which is a big concern for public health officials,” he said.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia, Pedro Fonseca and Lenadra Camera in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Richard Pullin)