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Latin America is now the ‘epicenter of the outbreak,’ says health official

Latin America has surpassed Europe and the United States in the daily number of reported Covid-19 infections, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said Tuesday, putting the region at the center of the global outbreak.

There have been more than 2.4 million cases and more than 143,000 deaths in all of the Americas, Dr. Carissa Etienne told a press briefing, adding the region “has become the epicenter of the Covid pandemic.”

PAHO is particularly concerned about Brazil, where the number of new cases reported last week “was the highest for a seven-day period since the outbreak began,” Etienne said. Peru and Chile are also reporting a high number of cases, she added, warning that for countries in the region “now is not the time to relax restrictions or scale back preventive strategies.”

Peru and Chile are among the region’s worst hit. They now hold the world’s highest infection rates per capita over a seven-day rolling average, according to Our World in Data (OWID), an independent statistics website headquartered at Oxford University.

On Tuesday, Chile had 77,961 infections and 806 deaths since the outbreak began. Two members of its government, Minister of Energy Juan Carlos Jobet and Public Works Minister Alfredo Moreno, tested positive for the virus on Monday after showing mild symptoms.

Brazil overtook Russia over the weekend to become the country with the most confirmed cases of Covid-19 after the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University figures. By Monday, it had 374,898 infections in total and 23,473 deaths, according to the health ministry.

“Now is the time to stay strong, to remain vigilant, and to aggressively implement proven public health measures. We have learned from other regions, we have learned what works and what doesn’t and we must continue to apply this knowledge to our context,” Etienne said.

Brazil’s crisis

These grim milestones come hours before a US travel ban for Brazil comes into effect at 11:59 pm ET Tuesday night. It will limit the entry of any foreign nationals, including Brazilians, who were in the country within the past 14 days.

Sao Paulo governor Joao Doria told CNN that the ban may affect diplomatic and economic relations between both countries.

His city of 12 million is the worst-hit in the country, with more than 83,000 infections and 6,220 deaths, according to the latest data from the Brazilian health ministry.

Doria told CNN that President Jair Bolsonaro had been undermining the preventative measures and messaging by the governors of the most impacted places in Brazil. “The behavior of President Bolsonaro is the wrong behavior. He is against social isolation. He’s against orientation of the science,” Doria said, adding that in his city, “we support social isolation, we recommend to the people to use masks and stay home.”

Bolsonaro has referred to the virus as a “little flu” and frequently downplayed its risks. Two health ministers have left his cabinet in a 4-week period — one was fired and the other resigned — after disagreements over how to handle the pandemic.

A coronavirus model that has been cited by the White House, suggests the country’s trauma is far from over.

Analysis from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington projects there will be 125,833 deaths by August 4, with a possible range as low as 68,311 and as high as 221,078.

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