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LATIN AMERICA | 09-08-2020 08:38

Brazil surpasses grim milestone of 100,000 coronavirus deaths

Just a day after Latin America and the Caribbean became the hardest-hit region in the global pandemic, Brazil reported a total of 100,477 fatalities, joining the United States as the only two countries to surpass the six-digit death mark.

Brazil on Saturday surpassed 100,000 coronavirus deaths and three million cases of infection, crossing the grim milestone after President Jair Bolsonaro said he had a "clear conscience" on his response to the outbreak.

With 100,477 fatalities and 3,012,412 confirmed cases, Argentina's giant neighbour of 212 million people is the second hardest-hit country in the global pandemic, after the United States.

The Health Ministry reported 905 new deaths in the past 24 hours, as well as 49,970 fresh cases. 

But the official figures are most likely an undercount, with experts estimating that the total number of infections could be up to six times higher due to insufficient testing.

Brazil has seen 478 deaths per million people, a figure roughly equivalent to that of the United States (487), but lower than that of Spain (609) or Italy (583).

Senate speaker Davi Alcolumbre announced four days of mourning in Congress to pay tribute to the country's 100,000-plus virus victims.

The coronavirus outbreak in Brazil is showing no sign of slowing as it enters its sixth month.

The country's first confirmed Covid-19 case was identified in São Paulo on February 26, with the first death on March 12, also in the city.

Brazil marked 50,000 deaths a hundred days later, but then doubled that total in just half the time.

Infections have accelerated in recent weeks in the countryside as well as inland regions and areas where the virus was late arriving, particularly the country's south and center-west. 

In southeastern states such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, hardest-hit by the virus in absolute numbers, the situation has stabilised, while the virus' presence has declined in northern regions after reaching catastrophic levels in April and May.

 'Arrogance'

At Copacabana beach in Rio, activists from the NGO Rio de Paz released 1,000 red balloons Saturday while standing between 100 black crosses stuck in the sand, in a tribute to Brazilians who have died of coronavirus.

Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Bolsonaro's leftist nemesis, on Twitter denounced "the arrogance of a president who has chosen to describe this cruel virus as a little flu, defying science and even death, and who bears in his soul the responsibility for all the lives lost."

The contagion has cast a harsh light on Brazil's inequalities, with the virus wreaking particular havoc on the country's favelas and hitting black populations especially hard.

The country's indigenous Amazon populations have also been hard hit, with one of Brazil's leading chiefs, 71-year-old Aritana Yawalapiti, dying Wednesday of respiratory complications caused by Covid-19.

Bolsonaro's government, which has been criticised for managing the epidemic in a chaotic fashion, is on its third health minister since the virus reached the country.

The right-wing leader, who tested positive for the virus last month but has since recovered, said Thursday he had "a clear conscience" and had done "everything possible to save lives."

Bolsonaro also called the governors of states that took containment measures which he opposed for economic reasons "dictators."

Football returns

Brazil resumed its national football championship on Saturday, three months behind schedule.

Three matches were due to open the country's Serie A, in a big victory for President Jair Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the risks of the disease and has insisted life and sport should return to normal.

Brazil has counted a daily average of 1,000 fatalities by the virus for more than two months, and almost three million people are infected. But executives of the country's football body felt confident enough to kick off the national championship, a step that neighbouring Argentina, where about 4,200 have died of the disease, has yet to take.

Club executives and players have been quiet about the start-up, but others haven't. One of the most vocal critics is former footballer and TV Globo commentator Walter Casagrande.

“We can't forget what is happening in this country. We will reach 100,000 deaths, a scary number, and football is on," Casagrande, a former national team, Porto and Torino striker, said Wednesday during the first leg of the Sao Paulo state league final between Corinthians and Palmeiras. “I feel embarrassed about this situation, but it is my job. I am here to talk about football.”

State leagues that open the Brazilian season started coming back in June after open pressure from Brazilian and South American champion Flamengo. Those tournaments needed to be finished so the national competition could kick off.

Jorge Pagura, the head of the medical commission of Brazil's football confederation, said the anti-Covid-19 protocol for the national championship is “at the maximum level of safety.” The measures include tests three days before matches for all 23 members of each team, both coaches and the four referees.

The national championship will see teams flying around on a tight schedule in a country as big as the continental United States. Players will be exposed to the risk of disease in multiple airports, airplanes and hotels, and travel to places where the pandemic could be in a worse stage than in their hometowns.

The Brazilian protocols say no more than 300 people will attend matches, including players, club staffers, executives and the media. Only six ball boys will be allowed, and all need to wash their hands and the footballs with alcohol whenever possible.

President Bolsonaro, who is a fan of Palmeiras, mentioned the opening of the Brazilian championship in a live broadcast Thursday night.

“We regret every death, we will reach 100,000, but let's move on with our lives and get away from this problem,” he said.

The Brazilian championship is scheduled to finish in February. Flamengo are favourites to retain its title.

– TIMES/AFP/AP

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