Photograph: Amanda Perobelli/Reuters
Brazil has overtaken Italy as the country with the third-highest Covid-19 death toll after a daily record of 1,473 fatalities took its total tally to more than 34,000.
The figure was published by Brazil’s health ministry on Thursday night and means only the United States and the United Kingdom have registered more deaths because of the pandemic. The official number of infections rose to nearly 615,000, second only to the US.
In an online broadcast shortly before the numbers were released, Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro made almost no mention of the victims but continued to publicly attack efforts to slow the advance of coronavirus with quarantine measures and social distancing.
“We can’t go on like this. Nobody can take it anymore,” Bolsonaro said of the shutdown efforts being implemented by state governors and mayors across Brazil. “The collateral impact will be far greater than those people who unfortunately lost their lives because of these last three months here,” Bolsonaro said.
The numbers – which came after Mexico reported a record daily tally of more than 1,000 deaths on Wednesday – reinforced fears that Latin America’s two biggest economies, and other countries in the region, were facing a bleak few months.
Mexico’s death toll now stands at nearly 12,000 with the number of infections rising above 100,000 on Wednesday. Chile is also grappling with a growing crisis, this week extending a quarantine of the capital, Santiago, as the country’s total number of fatalities rose to nearly 1,300.
Despite the worsening situation, many parts of the region are moving towards reopening, against the advice of most medical experts.
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Miguel Lago, the director of Brazil’s Institute for Health Policy Studies, said reopening was a mistake that was likely to cause an explosion of infections and pile further pressure on hospitals that were already struggling to cope with the pandemic.
“I am very worried … We are going to witness hospitals collapsing in almost every state,” Lago warned. “I think the worst is still to come.”
Coronavirus cases have now been detected in more than 70% of Brazilian cities, with the south-eastern states of Rio and São Paulo particularly badly hit.
Lago said Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, bore particular responsibility for the dire situation: both for the incompetence of his government’s response and for the political self-interest he believed had driven Bolsonaro to deliberately undermine social distancing in order to protect the economy – and his chances of re-election in 2022.
“He doesn’t care about the lives of the Brazilians who will die because of his absolutely irresponsible behaviour,” said Lago.
Lago described the rightwing populist’s reaction as even more lacking than those of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, the leaders of the two countries with the highest Covid-19 death tolls.
José Manoel Ferreira Gonçalves, a civil society activist who recently denounced Bolsonaro at the United Nations for alleged crimes against humanity, said the president’s “shameful” response had condemned Brazil to “carnage”.
“We are adrift,” said Gonçalves, a member of the group Engineers For Democracy.
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On Thursday Mexico’s president, the leftwing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, urged his 129 million citizens not to allow the rising numbers of deaths and infections to condemn them to “psychosis, apprehension or fear”.
“I think our strategy has been the right one,” he reportedly told reporters in the southern state of Chiapas which he is visiting after restarting his travels this week as part of what he calls Mexico’s “new normal”. “We were lucky enough the pandemic didn’t arrive here first, which gave us time to get ready.”
López Obrador attacked media reports about Mexico’s record day of recorded deaths – the world’s second highest on Wednesday, after Brazil – as “alarmist and irresponsible”.
Chile also suffered its worst day of confirmed deaths on Wednesday, with 87 reported fatalities.
Despite their ideological differences, Bolsonaro and López Obrador, who swept to power in 2018 amid a wave of anti-establishment voter rage, have both positioned themselves as champions of the poor, determined to get their countries back to work in order to protect jobs and livelihoods.
But their countries look set to suffer some of the world’s highest Covid-19 death tolls, with Mexico’s coronavirus tsar, Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez, this week admitting another 20,000 lives could be lost.
“We are still a long way from the end of this epidemic,” he told the El Universal newspaper.