The coronavirus is spreading with increasing speed across South America’s largest nation, Brazil, prompting a senior government minister to warn that the health care system faces collapse.
The number of confirmed cases has surged by 283 in one day to 904, according to a bulletin released by the Health Ministry on Friday. The number of deaths has reached 11, it says.
This surge comes amid more warnings about the country’s inadequate health system, including a huge shortage of intensive care beds and other equipment — a dilemma shared across the region.
“Clearly, by the end of April, our health care system will collapse,” said Brazil’s Health Minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta.
“You can have the money. You can have a private plan. You can have a court order. But there is simply no room for you,” he added.
The toll taken by the coronavirus, coupled with its potentially devastating economic impact, is damaging the standing of Brazil’s far right president Jair Bolsonaro.
He has outraged many Brazilians by playing down the virus, initially describing it as a “fantasy,” and joining a crowd of supporters for handshakes and selfies last weekend, at a time he was supposed to be in isolation. Brazilians – many of whom have sought refuge from the virus threat by staying in their homes — have begun protesting against him at night, by drumming pots and pans from their windows.
There’s speculation in Brazil about Bolsonaro’s own health status — he says he has twice tested negative — after reports emerged that the virus has now infected 23 members of a delegation that he led to Florida two weeks ago. During that trip, he dined with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
Bolsonaro’s government has sought to contain the spiraling crisis, by announcing a $30 billion package of financial measures and closing almost all of Brazil’s land borders to visitors. Air travelers from Europe, Asia, and Australia are barred from entry beginning Monday.
Yet Bolsonaro has held back from more rigorous measures, saying that he fears Brazil would face a catastrophe if its economy grinds to a halt. He’s criticized Brazil’s state governors for taking “extreme measures.”
That includes the governor of the state that contains Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo. He has declared a public emergency and ordered the closure of all parks and nonessential services until the end of next month.
Rio de Janeiro’s governor is pressing for still stronger measures, including canceling all international flights and domestic flights from other Brazilian states with the virus. He’s already ordered many closures, including Rio’s celebrated tourist spots, the Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer statue, and beaches.