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CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: Brazil sees record jump in cases as it passes France in deaths

More than 33,000 new infections reported on Saturday as president and regional officials remain at loggerheads over how to deal with outbreak

Newly dug graves at the Sao Francisco Xavier cemetery in Rio de Janeiro on May 29, 2020 as Brazil's coronavirus death toll neared 28,000. Reuters
Newly dug graves at the Sao Francisco Xavier cemetery in Rio de Janeiro on May 29, 2020 as Brazil's coronavirus death toll neared 28,000. Reuters

Brazil reported a record 33,274 new cases of the novel coronavirus as its death toll surpassed that of France and now ranks only below the United States, Britain and Italy.

The South American nation has now reported 498,440 confirmed cases of coronavirus since the outbreak began, a level of contagion second only to the United States.

The death toll in Brazil from Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, increased to 28,834, with 956 new deaths in the last 24 hours, the health ministry said.

The latest US death toll stood at 103,781, according to a tally kept by John Hopkins University, while UK had 38,458 deaths and Italy 33,340.

Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro remain Brazil's hardest-hit states in terms of sheer numbers, while per capita rates are higher in the country's impoverished north and north-east, where health facilities are reaching capacity.

The health ministry has said "there is no way to foresee" when the country's outbreak will peak, and experts say the number of cases could be 15 times higher than the confirmed figure because there has been no widespread testing.

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The pandemic is spreading across Brazil under a cloud of confrontation, as governors and mayors implement restrictive measures while President Jair Bolsonaro, who has pinned his hopes of re-election on a booming economy, has berated them for imposing what he calls "the tyranny of total quarantine".

Differences over with the president over policy have led to the departure of two health ministers since the outbreak began. Mr Bolsonaro has called for states to eases lockdowns so that people can resume work, while also dismissing Covid-19 as "a little flu" despite nearly 370,000 deaths among the 6 million cases reported worldwide so far.

According to figures released by Brazil's statistics institute IBGE on Thursday, Latin America's biggest economy shed five million jobs in the first quarter this year, raising unemployment to 12.6 per cent.

Mr Bolsonaro on Friday proposed resuming Brazil's football season despite the growing number of cases. "As footballers are young athletes the risk of death if they catch coronavirus would be dramatically reduced," he told Radio Guaiba.

He said his chief motivation for wanting football to get back under way was to curb unemployment and the misery that accompanies it.

"The players have to survive somehow," he said, explaining that while some top footballers earn a fortune, those from smaller regional leagues need to play "to feed their families".

When football was suspended, seasons at the regional level were under way, but the national championship had been due to start in May and as yet there are no solid plans to begin.

Mr Bolsonaro and his son held meetings on May 19 with the presidents of two Rio superclubs, Vasco da Gama and Flamengo.

Photos of the president and his son wearing the shirts of the two clubs stunned social media, with official supporter groups claiming their image had been sold out to politics.

However, Mr Bolsonaro does not have the authority to order football to restart, which must be done by the regional states and municipalities.

Updated: May 31, 2020 03:52 PM

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