Brazil’s coronavirus death toll overtook Britain’s on Friday to become the second highest in the world with 41,828 dead, 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 second only to the United States.
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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.”
Coronavirus in Brazil – Copacabana’s beach filled with symbolic graves (2:10)
Brazil’s mounting toll comes as the country moves to ease quarantine restrictions and reopen businesses, something called for by President Jair Bolsonaro.
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.
Brazilian shoppers lined up for hours and crowded into malls that reopened on Thursday in the country two largest cities. Shoppers continued to crowd malls on Friday, Brazil’s equivalent to Valentine’s Day.
Inside stores in Sao Paulo and Rio, distancing rules were followed and shoppers were required to wear protective masks. Temperatures were taken before people entered some malls.
A poll by brokerage XP Investimentos released on Friday showed that 52 percent of Brazilians now favor 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