Brazil passes 50,000 coronavirus deaths as outbreak worsens

A man places flowers near a cross during a symbolic protest and tribute for health workers who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 20 June 2020.
A man places flowers near a cross during a symbolic protest and tribute for health workers who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 20 June 2020. Reuters
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Brazil, the world's No. 2 coronavirus hot spot after the United States, officially passed 50,000 coronavirus deaths on Sunday, a blow for a country already grappling with more than 1 million cases, rising political instability and a crippled economy.

Brazil now has a total of 1,085,038 confirmed cases and 50,617 deaths, up from 49,976 on Saturday, the health ministry said. Experts say the true numbers are a lot higher because of a lack of widespread testing. Latin America's largest country has typically recorded more than 1,000 deaths a day, but usually registers fewer on the weekends.

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Brazil confirmed its first case of the novel coronavirus on 26 February and passed 1 million cases on Friday. Since first arriving in the country, the virus' rapid spread has eroded support for right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro and has raised fears of economic collapse after years of anemic growth.

Bolsonaro, sometimes called the "Tropical Trump," has been widely criticized for his handling of the crisis. The country still has no permanent health minister after losing two since April, following clashes with the president.

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Bolsonaro has shunned social distancing, calling it a job-killing measure more dangerous than the virus itself. He has also promoted two anti-malarial drugs as remedies, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, despite little evidence they work.

On Sunday, Bolsonaro said the military serves the will of the people and its mission is to defend democracy, adding fuel to a raging debate about the armed forces' role amid rumbling fears of political fragility.

His comments came on the same day his supporters and detractors gathered in cities across the country, in a stark symbol of the polarization in Latin America's largest country.

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