Brazil hits record 69,000 daily coronavirus cases as restrictions eased

RIO DE JANEIRO / BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil set daily records for new COVID-19 cases and related deaths on Wednesday as the world's second worst outbreak headed for the 100,000 death milestone.

FILE PHOTO: An ambulance arrives at 28 de Agosto hospital in Manaus, Brazil, on April 16, 2020, during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). REUTERS / Bruno Kelly

Brazil is the country most affected by COVID-19 outside the United States, both in terms of deaths and cases. The 69,074 new confirmed cases and 1,595 additional deaths reported by the Ministry of Health have driven the country over 2.5 million infections and 90,000 deaths.

President Jair Bolsonaro has struggled against economic constraints and the disease has progressed as governors and mayors have relented to the pressure. In some cases, Brazilians packed without bars in bars and crowded public places, often in violation of local regulations.

Last week, Brazil had 7,677 COVID-19 deaths, most every week since the pandemic began, despite repeated predictions that the outbreak had peaked.

"Brazil is experiencing the worst phase of the pandemic," said Alexandre Naime, head of the Infectious Diseases Department at Sao Paulo State University. "Paradoxically, public order and personal behavior go in the opposite direction, as if we're not going through a daily tragedy," he added.

The Bolsonaro government announced on Wednesday that it will lift a foreign travel ban that has been in effect since March, provided that they have health insurance for their trip.

Relaxation restrictions arise as new hotspots in Brazil gain momentum every day.

Sao Paulo, Brazil's most populous and hardest hit state, has worked through a backlog of previously unregistered cases and reported more than 26,000 cases on Wednesday alone.

While Sao Paulo and neighboring Rio de Janeiro were first affected by the virus, health authorities expressed growing concern about outbreaks in the Midwest and the far south of the country, where the arrival of winter encourages infection.

"We present national data, but it's as if we have (multiple) COVID-19 pandemics with different regions of the country that behave differently," Arnaldo Correia de Medeiros, secretary for health surveillance, said in a press conference on television.

These conditions have made Brazil a global testing ground for pharmaceutical companies to test potential vaccines.

A Brazilian research institute announced on Wednesday that it had reached an agreement with China's Sinopharm to start the fourth major study of a potential vaccine in the country.

Bolsonaro himself has violated social guidelines at rallies in the capital city of Brasilia in recent months by joining supporters. He contracted coronavirus this month and spent weeks in partial isolation before recovering.

The right-wing populist has argued that the economic damage from blocking is worse than the disease itself, which he downplayed as "little flu" that can be cured by unproven treatments with the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.

Reporting by Pedro Fonseca and Jake Spring; Additional reporting by Gabriel Araujo and Marcelo Rochabrun; Edited by Brad Haynes, Dan Grebler and Leslie Adler

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