Latin America ravaged by record coronavirus deaths and infections

A surging coronavirus is ravaging parts of Latin America, setting records for cases and deaths on Friday even as the pandemic’s march slows in much of Europe, Asia and the United States.

Latin America’s two largest nations — Mexico and Brazil — reported record numbers of infections and deaths almost daily this week, fuelling criticism of their presidents, who have slow-walked shutdowns in an attempt to limit economic damage.

Brazil reported more than 330,000 confirmed cases as of Friday to trail only the US in terms of number of infections, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Brazil has also recorded more than 21,000 deaths, though experts believe the true numbers are higher.

Experts said the surging deaths across Latin America showed the limits of government action in a region where millions have informal jobs and many police forces are weak or corrupt and unable to enforce restrictions.

Virus Outbreak Colombia
Men hawking face shields ride past on their bicycles in Bogota, Colombia (Fernando Vergara/AP)

Infections also rose and intensive-care units were swamped in Peru, Chile and Ecuador, countries lauded for imposing early and aggressive business shutdowns and quarantines.

However some Latin American leaders have downplayed the severity of the virus.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has pushed back against state governors who tried to impose limits on people’s movements and commerce.

Opposition lawmakers and other detractors have called for Mr Bolsonaro’s impeachment and have alleged criminal mishandling of the response to the virus.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador continued to travel the country after its first confirmed case.

He let his health advisers take the lead on the crisis but kept insisting Mexico’s strong family bonds and work ethic would pull it through.

Mexico reported its highest one-day death toll so far on Friday, with 479 new fatalities- up from Wednesday’s previous high of 424.

It also reported 2,960 new cases, capping a week in which daily confirmed infections have hit close to that number.

However, the Health Department acknowledges that the real number is probably several times higher because of Mexico’s abysmally low testing rate.

HEALTH Coronavirus
Global coronavirus cases and deaths (PA Graphics)

The Mexican government has moved to restart the economy, allow mining, construction and parts of the North American automotive supply chain to resume operations this week.

Analysts predict a massive contraction in an economy that had already entered a recession before the pandemic.

Colombia’s Ministry of Health reported its biggest daily increases on Friday, with 801 new confirmed infections and 30 deaths.

In Chile, more than 90% of intensive care beds were full last week in the capital, Santiago.

Ecuador’s government instituted a curfew and other measures in March, but cases have swamped medical and mortuary services in the city of Guayaquil and now in the capital, Quito.

News outlets showed images of patients slumped in wheelchairs receiving oxygen in Peru, where there are only 2.5 intensive-care beds per 100,000 people, one quarter of the global standard.

The country had almost 109,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,100 dead as of Thursday night.