Infographic: Is Brazil the next big COVID-19 risk?
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After the horror stories coming from Ecuador — whose COVID-19 cases per capita had been far outnumbering anyone else in the region for the past few weeks — the question is now which other countries in South America are running the risk of being overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.
At the moment, the country with the second-highest number of deaths per capita (which is, for now, the most reliable indicator to compare the extent of contagion in the region) is Brazil, with Peru very close behind it. Worryingly, South America’s biggest nation is also showing the steepest curve in the region, meaning that the speed of the spread is also the highest in the subcontinent. With more than 800 COVID-19 deaths so far (4 per million Brazilians) and the biggest population in the continent by far at 210 million, it is easy to see how exponential growth could quickly turn Brazil into a tragedy similar to that of Western Europe.
Brazil has already posted two days of 100+ deaths this week, and President Jair Bolsonaro has refused to call on the nation to cease its normal activities and shelter at home to reduce contagion. Cases in dense, overcrowded favelas have also raised worries about the possibility of a quick spread among the country’s poorest, a relatively novel occurrence given that China or Europe (the original centers of the pandemic) do not have to deal with those problems on the same scale.
Despite Bolsonaro’s refusal, however, a large majority of governors including allies of the president, as well as most of his ministers, have called for citizens to stay at home. This took place comparatively earlier in the cycle than in Italy, Spain or the US, whose mass contagion began at least a month before, and has probably resulted in Brazil having a flatter curve than Europeans did a month ago, as the graph shows.
Still, Latin America’s health care systems, sanitation and economies are much weaker than those in the first world, so no one can know for sure how the curves will continue to evolve. So far, other countries such as Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay are showing better numbers, while Chile’s partial and late lockdown seems to be resulting in a middle-ground scenario.