By Pedro Fonseca and Eduardo Simões
RIO DE JANEIRO/SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak worsened on Wednesday and the South American nation could soon have the second-highest number of cases in the world as the Health Ministry reported 888 new deaths and nearly 20,000 new infections in a single day.
Brazil might soon trail only the United States in the number of coronavirus cases. Russia currently has the second-highest number of cases. Brazil’s coronavirus death toll is 18,859.
Brazil’s confirmed case tally now stands at 291,579, according to the Health Ministry. On Monday, Brazil overtook Britain to become the country with the third-highest number of infections and registered a daily record of 1,179 deaths on Tuesday.
President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for his handling of the outbreak. The far-right former army captain has long snubbed social-distancing measures, arguing instead for the reopening the economy.
He has also become an increasingly strong advocate for the malaria drug chloroquine as a possible remedy for COVID-19, despite warnings from health experts.
On Wednesday, the Health Ministry issued new guidelines for wider use of anti-malarial drugs in mild coronavirus cases.
Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, an active-duty army general, authorized the modified protocol after two trained doctors left the ministry’s top job under pressure to promote the early use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.
“We are at war. Worse than defeat would be the shame of not putting up a fight,” Bolsonaro tweeted about the government decision to put forward the drugs without proof of their effectiveness.
Gonzalo Vecina Neto, the former head of Brazil’s health regulator, Anvisa, called the new measures a “barbarity” that could cause more harm than good because of the dangerous potential side effects of the drug.
“It has no scientific evidence,” Vecina Neto told Reuters. “(It is) unbelievable that in the 21st century, we are living off magical thinking.”
(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca and Eduardo Simões; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney)