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Brazil overtakes U.K. for 3rd most COVID-19 cases

Tuesday May 19, 2020

COVID-19 patients are treated at a municipal field hospital in Manaus, Brazil, on Monday. (Felipe Dana/The Associated Press)

Brazil recorded 674 new coronavirus deaths on Monday, the Health Ministry said, and announced a total of 254,220 confirmed cases, overtaking Britain to become the country with the third-highest number of infections behind the United States and Russia.

Brazil has registered 16,792 Covid-19 deaths, the sixth-highest toll in the world.

But experts say under-testing means the real figures could be 15 times higher or more.

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The giant South American country of 210 million people is torn by a political battle over how to respond to the virus.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro compares the virus to a "little flu," condemns the "hysteria" surrounding it and is urging the country to get back to work to stop an economic crash.

State and local authorities, however, are largely calling on citizens to stay home and practice social distancing -- backed by the Supreme Court, which gave them the final say in the matter.

Last week, Health Minister Nelson Teich resigned, becoming the second top health official to leave the post since the pandemic began.

Bolsonaro fired the first after publicly battling over stay-at-home measures, and the second resigned last week after less than a month on the job, reportedly over the president's insistence on widespread use of the controversial and unproven malaria drug chloroquine to treat the disease.

General Eduardo Pazuello is the interim health chief and Bolsonaro is in no hurry to choose his replacement, sources say.

Hoospitals in several areas are meanwhile operating close to full capacity, and the hardest-hit cities have begun burying victims in mass graves, even as the number of infections continues to soar.

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