BRASILIA – Brazilian authorities detected 14,919 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours to bring the total number of infections to 233,142, more than all but three other countries, the health ministry said on Saturday.
Latin America’s largest nation moved ahead of Spain and France and now trails only the United States, with 1.46 million cases, Russia (272,043) and the United Kingdom (241,455).
Given the rate of contagion, Brazil is expected to surpass Russia and the UK within days.
The Brazilian Health Ministry said that deaths climbed 816 to 15,633, the sixth-highest in the world.
The US has by far the most coronavirus fatalities, 88,447, followed by the UK (34,546), Italy (31,610), Spain (27,563) and France (27,532).
Nearly 90,000, or 38.5%, of Brazilians who tested positive for COVID-19 have recovered, while more than 127,000 remain hospitalized or subject to medical monitoring.
Forecasts indicate that the peak of contagion in this country of 210 million people will come in the next few weeks.
Saturday also brought news that Brazil’s vice president, reserve army Gen. Hamilton Mourao, and his wife were self-isolating after an official who had contact with the general earlier this week tested positive for the virus.
Though neither Mourao or his spouse are symptomatic, they plan to remain in self-quarantine until at least Monday pending test results, the office of the vice president said.
Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro unleashed a fresh volley of criticism Saturday of steps taken by Brazil’s state governors to restrict movement and activity with the aim of containing COVID-19.
“Unemployment, hunger and misery will be the future of those who support the tyranny of social isolation,” the right-wing president tweeted a day after Brazil lost a health minister for the second time in a month due to disagreements with Bolsonaro about how to handle the crisis.
Bolsonaro continues to dismiss COVID-19 as a “measly flu” and though members of his own staff have been infected, he routinely flouts social-distancing guidelines by wading unmasked into crowds of supporters to shake hands and pose for selfies.
The oncologist who became Brazil’s health minister on April 17 after incumbent Luis Henrique Mandetta was fired amid frictions with Bolsonaro resigned on Friday.
Dr. Nelson Teich, who came to the job with limited experience in public health, ended up clashing with the president over the same issues that led to Mandetta’s dismissal: lockdowns and the use of chloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19.
Bolsonaro, a professed admirer of US President Donald Trump, who has touted the virtues of chloroquine, wants to see the drug used on all coronavirus patients, even in the absence of clinical data to indicate that it’s effective against the disease.
But Teich stuck with Mandetta’s approach of authorizing the administration of chloroquine only for patients in critical condition.