Coronavirus: Brazil becomes second worst-hit country – but its regions could ease lockdown

Brazil has confirmed more than 330,890 cases of COVID-19, overtaking Russia to become the country with the second-highest number of infections in the world.

Behind only the US, which has more than 1.6 million cases, Brazil reported a total number 21,048 coronavirus-related deaths on Friday, making it the hardest-hit nation in Latin America.

The milestone was reached as states and cities across Brazil debated whether to loosen restrictive measures or implement stricter lockdowns.

The mayor of Rio de Janeiro said he wanted to gradually reopen non-essential shops in the next few days.

In Sao Paulo, the worst-hit city, footage showed rows of graves at the Formosa Cemetery as it struggled to keep up with demand as officials reconsidered its previously announced plans to reopen commerce.

Brazil and Mexico have reported record numbers of infections and deaths almost daily this week, fuelling ongoing criticism of their presidents who were slow to enforce restrictive measures in an attempt to limit economic damage.

Far-right Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro has seen his poll ratings drop over his handling of the crisis.

Two heath ministers left their positions within a month after he continued to push for the use of the anti-malarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat even mild cases of COVID-19 – despite the lack of conclusive evidence of their effectiveness.

Infections have also risen in Peru, Chile and Ecuador – countries which imposed early and aggressive business shutdowns and quarantines.

Colombia reported its biggest daily increase on Friday, with 801 new confirmed cases and 30 deaths. The country has been locked down for nearly two months, with nearly 20,000 people being diagnosed with the virus to date.

The true number of cases and deaths across Latin America is likely higher than the figures suggest, as the region has been slow to ramp up testing.

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases have continued to fall in much of Asia, with China – where the outbreak began – reporting no new confirmed cases.

There were just 23 new infections in South Korea, mostly from the densely populated Seoul area where authorities shut down thousands of nightclubs and bars to curb the spread of the disease.

The US has been the hardest hit country in the world, with more than 96,000 deaths, however some regions are opening more quickly than others.

Michigan’s stay-at-home order was extended until 12 June while keeping theatres, gyms and other places of public accommodation closed until at least then, while Nevada is preparing to reopen its casinos, including ones in Las Vegas, from 4 June.

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