As Brazil becomes COVID-19 epicenter, cases rise across South America


By Aicha El Hammar Castano, Kirit Radia and Morgan Winsor, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — As Brazil emerges as an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic with an outbreak that is virtually unchecked, the country’s regional neighbors are experiencing a worrying rise in infections.

Brazil, where a more contagious variant of the novel coronavirus is circulating, saw a record 3,869 people die from COVID-19 on Wednesday, its highest single-day tally so far, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. In total, the country has had more than 12.8 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, including over 325,000 fatalities. Brazil’s case count and death toll from the disease are now only second to the United States, Johns Hopkins data shows.

The World Health Organization’s regional director for the Americas, Carissa Etienne, has warned that COVID-19 is surging “dangerously” across Brazil and urged all Brazilians to take preventative measures to stop the spread.

“Unfortunately, the dire situation in Brazil is also affecting neighboring countries,” Etienne said at press briefing last week.

But Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, remains unconvinced of the need for restrictions on activity, arguing that such measures infringe on personal freedom and the resulting economic doom would be worse than the virus itself.

Many other South American nations are now blaming Brazil’s uncontrolled outbreak as they see their own numbers swell. Several have closed borders, suspended flights, imposed lockdowns or implemented other restrictions in an effort to control the virus.

Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, said last week that “Brazil now represents a threat to the world” and blamed Bolsonaro for his “reckless attitude” toward the pandemic. Although the Venezuelan government has not released official COVID-19 figures, Johns Hopkins data shows the country is facing a severe wave of new infections. There were 1,348 newly confirmed cases in Venezuela on Wednesday, the country’s highest daily total on record, according to Johns Hopkins data.

An opposition-linked medical group said Venezuelan hospitals are grappling with the number of patients in intensive care and are asking for more ventilators.

In Colombia, there were 11,449 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the country’s highest single-day tally since late January, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Last week, Colombian President Ivan Duque canceled a scheduled trip to Brazil to meet with Bolsonaro, citing the country’s worsening outbreak. Earlier this year, Colombia banned flights from Brazil due to the variant there.

Ecuador has seen an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases since the start of the year and recently imposed a lockdown with a curfew in eight provinces

There were 7,868 newly confirmed cases in Ecuador on Thursday, the country’s highest daily total since mid-June, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Peru announced last week that a study by the country’s National Institute of Health found approximately 40% of COVID-19 cases in the capital Lima are due to the Brazil variant, which entered the country’s Amazon region at the beginning of the year. The Peruvian government has a ban in place on all flights from Brazil until April 15.

There were 19,206 newly confirmed cases in Peru on March 25, the country’s highest single-day tally since early August, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Bolivia has temporarily closed its border with Brazil for seven days, starting Friday. Officials said there will be leeway for some cross-border trade during the closure.

There were 1,072 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bolivia on Tuesday, the country’s highest daily total in more than two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Chile, which boasts one of the fastest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world, saw its case count surpass the 1 million mark on Thursday amid 7,868 newly confirmed infections, the country’s highest single-day tally since mid-June, according to Johns Hopkins data.

The Chilean government has closed the country’s borders for the month of April and has tightened restrictions on movement amid an already stern lockdown. The new measures came as officials warned that hospitals were nearing capacity with younger victims of the disease.

Argentina has warned of an “explosive increase” in COVID-19 cases, prompting authorities there to implement new restrictions, encourage people to work from home, close land borders and ban flights from various countries, including Brazil and Chile. The Argentinian government is also now delaying the administration of the second dose of COVID-19 vaccines for three months in an effort to get first doses into as many arms as possible “to maximize the benefits of vaccination and diminish the impact of hospitalizations and mortality.”

There were 16,056 newly confirmed cases in Argentina on Wednesday, the country’s highest daily total since mid-October, according to Johns Hopkins data. Authorities estimated cases increased in the capital Buenos Aires by more than 30% over the past week, compared with the previous week. The fresh wave of infections is suspected to be driven by three highly contagious variants believed to have originated in Brazil, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.