Brazil’s federal health ministry announced Thursday evening that the country has surpassed 2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus with more than 76,000 deaths.
The country first reported cases of coronavirus in May, roughly five months after the U.S.’s first reported case. Within three months of Brazil’s first case, they have become the world’s second-leading populace for the number of coronavirus cases, trailing behind the U.S. who has reported over 3.5 million cases.
Brazil recorded 45,403 new cases of COVID-19 and 1,322 new deaths Thursday.
President Jair Bolsonaro tested positive for coronavirus for the second time this week, following his first announcement that he was positive for COVID-19 on July 7.
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Wednesday marked the second month that Brazil has gone without a health minister after the first two ministers vacated their roles following disagreements with Bolsonaro and how the coronavirus pandemic should be handled.
Former Health Minister Nelson Teich resigned after serving only one month on the job, reportedly due to fundamental disagreements on social distancing orders and the promotion of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly promoted the hydroxychloroquine drug, despite little scientific evidence that it has any effect on fighting the coronavirus. The president took to social media this week to say that he believes the drug has been helping him.
“I was medicated from the beginning with hydroxychloroquine, with a doctor’s recommendation. I felt better the next day,” Bolsonaro said on social media Wednesday, according to a report by Reuters. “Whether it is a coincidence or not… it worked for me.”
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Teich’s predecessor, Luiz Henrique, was reportedly fired from the health minister position after disagreeing with Bolsonaro over encouraging the prescriptions of hydroxychloroquine to fight the coronavirus.
Army General Eduardo Pazuello is currently serving as the interim Health Minister, he reportedly has no training in the health field.
Bolsonaro repeatedly downplayed the severity of the coronavirus, calling it a “little flu” early on and telling reporters in June that he “regret[ed] all the dead but it is everyone’s destiny.”
He was seen mingling in crowds without wearing a mask and pushed to have social distancing regulations lifted, saying that the repercussions to the economy outweighed the threat of the virus, despite warnings from his Health Ministry.
While coronavirus cases are now slowing in the city centers, Brazil is now seeing spikes in the rural communities. Health experts blame Bolsonaro’s lackadaisical response and the absence of a nationally coordinated response.
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Experts also believe the number of reported cases fall short of Brazil’s reality, due to a shortage of testing.
“The virus would have been difficult to stop anyway. But this milestone of 2 million cases, which is very underestimated, shows this could have been different,” Dr. Adriano Massuda, a health official and professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a Sao Paulo university told The Associated Press.
“There’s no national strategy for testing, no measures from the top…too little effort to improve basic care so we find serious cases before they become too serious, no tracking.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.