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

AICHA EL HAMMAR CASTANO, KIRIT RADIA and MORGAN WINSOR
·4 min read

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.

PHOTO: A coffin is buried at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 31, 2021, amid the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (Miguel Schincariol/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: A coffin is buried at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 31, 2021, amid the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (Miguel Schincariol/AFP via Getty Images)

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.

PHOTO: Catholic faithful wearing face masks as they watch the religious procession during Holy Week celebrations in Caracas, Venezuela, March 31, 2021.  (Pedro Rances Mattey/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Catholic faithful wearing face masks as they watch the religious procession during Holy Week celebrations in Caracas, Venezuela, March 31, 2021. (Pedro Rances Mattey/AFP via Getty Images)

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.

PHOTO: A member of the Colombian Red Cross medical team takes a swab sample to be tested for the coronavirus disease from a Venezuelan refugee who fled his country due to military operations, in Arauquita, Colombia, March 28, 2021. (Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters)
PHOTO: A member of the Colombian Red Cross medical team takes a swab sample to be tested for the coronavirus disease from a Venezuelan refugee who fled his country due to military operations, in Arauquita, Colombia, March 28, 2021. (Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters)

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.

PHOTO: Families looking for their deceased loved ones who have been lost or misidentified during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic hold signs during a protest in Guayaquil, Ecuador, May 20, 2020.  (Santiago Arcos/Reuters, FILE)
PHOTO: Families looking for their deceased loved ones who have been lost or misidentified during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic hold signs during a protest in Guayaquil, Ecuador, May 20, 2020. (Santiago Arcos/Reuters, FILE)

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.

PHOTO: people queue to refill their empty oxygen cylinders on Jan. 29, 2021 amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in Callao, Peru. (Ernesto Benavides/AFP via Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: people queue to refill their empty oxygen cylinders on Jan. 29, 2021 amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in Callao, Peru. (Ernesto Benavides/AFP via Getty Images, FILE)

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.

PHOTO: A man wearing a mask and goggles amid the coronavirus pandemic sells masks decorated with fake money at the annual Alasita Fair in La Paz, Bolivia, on March 24, 2021. (Juan Karita/AP)
PHOTO: A man wearing a mask and goggles amid the coronavirus pandemic sells masks decorated with fake money at the annual Alasita Fair in La Paz, Bolivia, on March 24, 2021. (Juan Karita/AP)

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.

PHOTO: Authorities verify the health permits of the passengers on a public transport bus in Santiago, Chile. Sanitary checks and police controls were implemented during the first day of total lockdown in the central area of the country.   (SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: Authorities verify the health permits of the passengers on a public transport bus in Santiago, Chile. Sanitary checks and police controls were implemented during the first day of total lockdown in the central area of the country. (SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, FILE)

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.

PHOTO: Students wearing protective masks and keeping social distance participate in a class in the schoolyard on Oct. 13, 2020 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  (Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: Students wearing protective masks and keeping social distance participate in a class in the schoolyard on Oct. 13, 2020 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images, FILE)

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.

As Brazil becomes COVID-19 epicenter, cases rise across South America originally appeared on abcnews.go.com