Brazil’s coronavirus death toll tops 15,000

MANAUS: This file aerial picture shows a burial taking place at an area where new graves have been dug up at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, in the Amazon forest in Brazil, during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. – AFP

SAO PAULO: Brazil’s COVID-19 death toll passed 15,000 on Saturday, official data showed, while its number of infections topped 230,000, making it the country with the fourth-highest number of cases in the world. With 15,633 deaths and 233,142 confirmed cases, Brazil – whose president Jair Bolsonaro has dismissed the disease as a “little flu” – is at the epicenter of infections in Latin America.  Experts say under-testing means the real figures could be 15 times higher or more, and warn the worst is yet to come. The sprawling South American country registered 816 deaths and 14,919 new cases in the past 24 hours.

Despite the rising tolls, Bolsonaro on Saturday attacked lockdown measures taken by some governors to contain the spread of the virus. “Unemployment, hunger and misery will be the future of those who support the tyranny of total isolation,” the far-right president tweeted, a day after Health Minister Nelson Teich resigned after less than a month on the job. The president insists business closures and stay-at-home orders are unnecessarily damaging the economy. The pandemic has already claimed almost 310,000 lives worldwide. 

Hospital in Amazon

Meanwhile, Peru said it will construct a fast-build hospital in the Amazon as it seeks to respond to a growing COVID-19 emergency sweeping through the indigenous population. State social security body EsSalud said it expects the 100-bed hospital in Pucallpa, capital of the remote Ucayali region on the border with Brazil, to be operational within three weeks. “EsSalud will install a fast-build hospital in Ucayali to serve COVID-19 patients,” the government body said in a statement late Friday.

The Peruvian Amazon is already facing a dire emergency, with hospitals in its largest city Iquitos overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and local morgues unable to cope with the number of bodies. The government said it would rush 220 healthworker reinforcements to the Amazon. “We have been working intensively to expand the services and provide hospitals in the Peruvian Amazon with all the necessary means to care for patients with COVID-19,” said Federico Tong Hurtado, a spokesman for the social security services.

Prime Minister Gustavo Zeballos said the government would ensure the supply of oxygen and other vital medical materials via “an air and land bridge” to the region. Roads are practically non-existent in the Peruvian jungle and rivers are the main means of transportation.  The government has pledged to ramp up the frequency of flights from Lima to ensure aid deliveries. An oxygen plant will begin operating in Iquitos, capital of the neighboring Amazon region of Loreto, on Monday, supplying a local 40-bed hospital. Desperate COVID-19 patients have been dying in the region’s hospitals for lack of oxygen, officials say.

“The world’s lung is dying from lack of oxygen and this is our sad reality,” the director of Health for the Amazon Region of Loreto, Carlos Calampa, told AFP in a video call on Thursday. Loreto, which borders Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador, is the largest and least populated region in Peru but also the worst affected by the pandemic. More than 2,250 cases of Peru’s COVID-19 cases have been registered there, with 95 deaths, according to official figures. Church authorities in Iquitos have organized a public collection to acquire another plant to provide oxygen bottles for local hospitals.- Agencies

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