FILE PHOTO: Gravediggers carry the coffin of Avelino Fernandes Filho, 74, who passed away from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during his funeral in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
RIO DE JANEIRO (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 cases in a single day.
Brazil could soon have more coronavirus cases than any nation in the world except the United States. Russia currently has the second highest number of cases.
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 re-opening 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 of risks.
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 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 to explain the government decision to put forward the drugs without proof of their effectiveness.
Brazil’s coronavirus death toll now stands at 18,859.
Reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Sandra Maler and Lisa Shumaker