Brazil has seen a record number of coronavirus deaths as the pandemic that has swept across the world begins to hit Latin America with its full force.
After Asia, Europe and North America, Latin America has seen coronavirus infections surge in recent days and now accounts for about 580,000 of the world’s nearly five million confirmed cases.
Brazil has been hardest-hit in the region, rising to the third-highest number of cases in the world, as Peru, Mexico and Chile also see steady increases in infections.
Health officials in Brazil reported 1,179 new coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, the first time the daily toll exceeded 1,000, but far-right President Jair Bolsonaro remains bitterly opposed to lockdowns, having described them as unnecessary over a “little flu”.
With the outbreak in the world’s sixth-largest country expected to accelerate until early June, many Brazilians are deeply worried about the next few weeks.
“Our country is going from bad to worse,” said retiree Gilberto Ferreira in Rio de Janeiro.
“We have an inefficient government, and the people also do not obey the rules of the pandemic.”
Bolsonaro has refused to accept experts’ advice on responding to the pandemic, pressing regional governors to end stay-at-home measures.
And like US counterpart Donald Trump he has promoted the use of anti-malaria drugs against the virus despite studies showing they have no benefit and could have dangerous side effects.
New federal guidelines released by Brazil’s health ministry on Wednesday recommended doctors prescribe the drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, from the onset of coronavirus symptoms.
Chile is also suffering from a sharp rise in cases and deployed soldiers on the outskirts of its locked-down capital Santiago after clashes with protesters angry about food shortages and job losses.
“People don’t have work, they don’t have money and they don’t have food,” said Monica Sepulveda, a 46-year-old unemployed security guard from El Bosque, a working class neighbourhood where residents armed with clubs and stones clashed with riot police.
There were worrying signs in Argentina too, with authorities in the second city Cordoba having to backtrack on easing lockdown measures following a sharp spike in infections.
Experts have been warning for weeks of the devastating impact the pandemic is set to have as it moves from northern countries to the less-developed south.
In Africa, the pandemic is still in its “early days”, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned, calling for “global solidarity” with the continent.
“The pandemic threatens African progress,” he said.
“It will aggravate longstanding inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease,” Guterres added, calling for international action to support Africa’s health systems and maintain food supplies.
Europe is meanwhile hoping the worst is behind it, with the number of new cases and deaths on a steady decline after the continent suffered nearly 170,000 fatalities from the pandemic.
The global toll now stands at more than 323,000, according to an AFP tally.
Lockdown measures are being eased in many parts of Europe, with residents enjoying old freedoms for the first time in weeks.
Trump is especially keen to reopen businesses ahead of an election due in November, and his Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned the American economy risks suffering “permanent damage” the longer the lockdown continues.
The president has blamed China for the pandemic and lashed out at Beijing again in an early morning tweet on Wednesday.
“It was the ‘incompetence of China’, and nothing else, that did this mass Worldwide killing,” he tweeted.
He has also accused the World Health Organization of failing to contain the pandemic, threatening to permanently cut US funding to the agency.
The WHO agreed this week to launch an independent investigation into its handling of the outbreak.