The healthcare system in Brazil’s largest city is on the verge of collapse due to coronavirus, its mayor has said.
Bruno Covas, mayor of Sao Paulo, said public hospitals in the city of 12 million people had already reached 90 per cent capacity, and could run out of space within two weeks.
“It is hard to believe that some prefer the population to be subjected to Russian roulette. Indifference in the face of death is unseemly,” he said of those flouting social distancing measures, which includes the country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.
Brazil confirmed 7,938 new cases of the novel coronavirus as of Sunday, as well as 485 related deaths, according to data from the Health Ministry. It brought the total number of deaths to 16,118, and the confirmed cases to more than 240,000 – the fourth highest in the world, having overtaken Spain and Italy on Saturday.
Sao Paulo is one of the country’s worst-hit regions, accounting for around a fifth of its confirmed deaths so far.
Mr Covas said he was in discussions with the state governor about introducing a strict lockdown, as although a quarantine was imposed on the city nearly two months ago, there is little punishment for those who ignore the rules.
Despite the grim figures, Mr Bolsonaro has consistently opposed medical experts’ advice that stringent measures be taken to slow the spread of Covid-19.
On Sunday, he flouted social distancing rules by posing for photographs with children plucked out of a crowd of supportive demonstrators.
In an online video, Mr Bolsonaro said he welcomed the demonstration at the presidential palace in what has become a nearly biweekly affair.
“Above all (the people) want freedom, they want democracy, they want respect,” he said, adding that Brazilians want to get the economy back up and running as quickly as possible.
But an opinion poll released last Tuesday showed two-thirds of Brazilians agreed with the need for social distancing to contain the outbreak, which governors and health experts recommend, while Mr Bolsonaro tries to open gyms, hair salons and other businesses.
On Friday, Nelson Teich resigned as health minister as he and the president showed themselves increasingly out of step, with Mr Bolsonaro calling for a rollback of state quarantines and for the widespread use of unproven drugs, such as chloroquine, to fight the virus.
“Chlo-ro-quine! Chlo-ro-quine!” chanted Mr Bolsonaro’s supporters outside the presidential palace in Sunday, as well as, “We want to work!”
Nationwide testing in Brazil still lags far behind European nations. Brazil had processed nearly 338,000 novel coronavirus tests in official labs by the beginning of last week, according to the Health Ministry. An additional 145,000 tests were under analysis or waiting in line.
By contrast, Italy and Spain have each run some 1.9 million official diagnostic tests for the virus.