Brazil’s coronavirus death toll overtook Britain’s on Friday to become the second highest in the world, but the World Health Organization (WHO) said the nation’s health system was standing up to the pressure.
The Ministry of Health recorded 909 deaths on Friday, putting the total at 41,828. It also reported a cumulative total of 828,810 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 25,982 new infections in the last 24 hours – numbers that were second only to the United States’s.
Experts warn the actual number of cases in Latin America’s biggest economy could be many times higher.
Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergencies expert, said the situation in Brazil remains “of concern,” although he acknowledged that intensive care bed occupancy rates are now below 80 percent in most areas of the country.
“Overall the health system is still coping in Brazil, although, having said that, with the sustained number of severe cases that remains to be seen,” Ryan said at a briefing in Geneva.
“Clearly the health system in Brazil across the country needs significant support in order to sustain its effort in this regard. But the data we have at the moment supports a system under pressure, but a system still coping with the number of severe cases.”
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Brazil’s mounting toll comes as the country moves to ease quarantine restrictions and reopen businesses, amid pressure from President Jair Bolsonaro and his followers.
The right-wing leader has minimised the gravity of the novel coronavirus, dismissing it as “a little flu,” and has accused state governments of exaggerating the number of infections and deaths to undermine him.
On Thursday night, Bolsonaro encouraged his supporters to “find a way to get inside” hospitals to film whether the ICU beds are occupied or not, to provide images that the police and Brazil’s intelligence agency could investigate.
Separately, the Ministry of Health last week stopped publishingcumulative totals of infections and deaths, and reversed the decision only after a Supreme Court ruling. The top court has previously ruled that state and local governments have the authority to order businesses to close in the face of the pandemic.
Gustavo Ribiero, founder of the Brazilian Report, said Bolsonaro was unlikely to change his stance on the pandemic despite the increasing number of deaths.
“If his time in office has taught us anything, it is that Bolsonaro will always double down on his bet. Now Bolsonaro’s strategy to put all the blame for the deaths and the economic crisis on the governors,” Ribiero said from Sao Paulo.
“He’s saying that since the Supreme Court has ruled that state governors and mayors have the authority over lockdowns, everything regarding the pandemic is their fault and not the federal government’s.”
Ribiero added: “Jair Bolsonaro’s approval rating has been consistent at 30 percent, but its not the same 30 percent that supported him a year ago. Due to the economic backlash from the coronavirus crisis, he has lost support among the wealthy and the businessmen. He has gained support among poor voters because the government has put in place a coronavirus stipend of $120 per month for three months – that has aided a lot of people below the poverty line to stay afloat.”
A poll by brokerage XP Investimentos released on Friday showed that 52 percent of Brazilians now favour easing quarantine restrictions versus 44 percent against, even though 61 percent of those surveyed believe the worst is still to come.
Last month, an XP Investimentos poll had found that 76 percent saw social distancing as the best way to avoid the spread of the virus and 57 percent thought quarantine measures should remain in place until the risk of infection subsided.
Al Jazeera and news agencies