The coronavirus has infected more than five million people around the world, with Latin America now seeing the fastest growth in new cases.
A surge in cases in Brazil, a large outbreak in Peru and a growing crisis in Argentina have propelled South America ahead of North America as the continent with the most new infections.
Yesterday, South America recorded 27,517 new cases, ahead of North America with 24,935, Asia with 21,542 and Europe with 17,275. Africa and Oceania have seen far fewer cases so far.
With official figures already painting a bleak picture, there are fears that the true scale of the crisis in Latin America is even more horrific because of under-reporting and insufficient testing.
Brazil has processed only 338,000 tests for its 210million population, lagging far behind European countries such as Germany, Italy and Spain, and president Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly played down the scale of the crisis.
Mexico – a part of Latin America although not South America – has a lower rate of testing for the virus than any of the world’s largest economies, suggesting its official tally of 56,594 cases may be far too low.
An anti-corruption group has claimed that the true death toll in Mexico City could be three times higher than the official figure, at 4,577 instead of 1,332.
Meanwhile in Venezuela, a group of scientists who questioned official figures and warned of a looming surge in cases were publicly rebuked by a government minister who demanded an investigation.
This chart shows how South America (in red) is now recording the largest number of new coronavirus infections per day, overtaking North America (in green) for the first time yesterday after previously surpassing Asia (purple) and Europe (blue). The rise has been driven by a surge in new cases in Brazil. Africa and Oceania have far fewer cases
How Latin America is being affected by the coronavirus pandemic
Brazil has the third-largest outbreak after the US and Russia and has a low rate of testing, meaning it may have far more cases than its official tally of 291,579 infections and 18,859 deaths. Far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly played down the crisis and raged against lockdowns.
Argentina recorded Latin America’s first virus death on March 7 and now has a death toll of 403, with 9,283 confirmed cases. The daily infection rate has been rising in recent days, with 474 new cases confirmed yesterday. The lockdown has been extended several times, with particularly strict measures in Buenos Aires.
Chile has recorded more than 53,000 cases – with 10,000 in the last four days – and seen the virus spread from more affluent areas of the country to crowded, poorer areas. There have been 544 deaths and Santiago entered lockdown last weekend.
There are officially 56,594 cases and 6,090 deaths in Mexico, with a record 424 new fatalities yesterday – but there are fears of a vast ‘unseen’ death toll. An anti-corruption group which analysed death certificates has claimed that the true death toll in Mexico City could be three times higher than the official figure. Mexico has the lowest testing rate of any OECD country.
Venezuela has suffered from food and medical shortages since long before the pandemic, and hospital workers warn that their facilities are not equipped for a major outbreak. Scientists who questioned official figures and predicted that the country could have 4,000 cases a day by early June were berated by the country’s authoritarian regime. Official figures show only 824 cases and 10 deaths.
Uruguay has confirmed only 746 cases and 20 deaths so far, saying that only 138 people are currently sick with the disease, but a meagre target of 1,000 tests per day was only reached earlier this month. The country’s military says it has established 800 checkpoints and carried out 2,300 patrols along the border with Brazil
Ecuador has confirmed 34,854 cases and 2,888 deaths from coronavirus. Authorities acknowledge both figures are likely to be higher. At the height of the crisis, corpses were left in homes or on streets for hours in the country’s largest city of Guayaquil, but the government says the outbreak has stabilised.
Peru has confirmed 104,020 cases, the second-highest tally in South America. The country has carried out 715,423 tests, more than Brazil for a population around six times smaller. Peru has seen 3,024 deaths. A top infectious disease expert has warned that the health system may be on the brink of collapse.
Colombia has recorded 17,687 cases and 630 deaths. Some parts of the country have started re-opening, but the capital Bogota – which has seen more than a third of Colombia’s cases – has tightened its rules. Officials have voiced concern the that the virus is spreading rapidly in the tri-border area of the Amazon between Colombia, Peru and Brazil.
Bolivia has begun easing lockdown restrictions in some areas after deeming them to have low rates of contagion. The country has reported 4,919 cases and 199 deaths in total. There was further chaos yesterday when the country’s health minister was fired and placed under investigation over an alleged corrupt deal to buy ventilators.
After the virus first emerged in late 2019, the world reached one million cases in early April. Since then, each additional million has taken around two weeks.
Asia initially had the most cases because the virus was concentrated in China, which still had around 99 per cent of infections as late as mid-February.
Europe then became the focal point in mid-March, initially centred on Italy, before the huge outbreak in the United States put North America into an unwanted lead.
While the outbreaks in Europe and the US have gradually been in retreat after weeks of lockdown, South America has yet to reach its peak.
According to figures from Our World In Data, daily cases in South America surpassed those in Europe on May 15 before overtaking North America yesterday.
The 27,517 new infections in South America on Wednesday made up more than a quarter of the world’s 94,557 additional cases.
Europe still accounts for around half the world’s deaths, with more than 169,000 fatalities recorded there. However, Brazil now has the third-largest outbreak in the world, behind only the United States and Russia.
As of Thursday afternoon in Europe, the global tally of cases was 5,027,732 while a total of 328,730 people have died from Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Brazil’s health ministry has recorded 291,579 cases and 18,859 deaths so far, with no signs that the outbreak is slowing. Yesterday’s figure of new infections was a record 19,951, while Tuesday saw a new high of 1,179 daily deaths.
Public health experts say the peak is not expected until June and fear that the true scale of the crisis is far greater because of insufficient testing.
Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro remains bitterly opposed to the lockdowns which most states have imposed, raging at the economic damage over what he calls a ‘little flu’.
Hospitals are already close to the breaking point in some areas, including Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and the northwestern state of Amazonas.
About 13million Brazilians live in shanty town ‘favelas,’ where hygiene recommendations and physical distancing are almost impossible to follow.
Argentina is also recording hundreds of new cases a day in its worst spate of infections so far. The Argentine health ministry said last night that total cases had risen to 9,283, while 403 people have died.
Much of Argentina has been in lockdown since March 20, and scientists are working to develop rapid testing kits.
Meanwhile, Peru has recorded more than 100,000 cases – the second-highest tally on the continent after Brazil – and is suffering from medical shortages and soaring drug prices.
Peru recorded its first confirmed coronavirus case on March 6 and reached 1,000 infections just 25 days later. It surpassed 10,000 cases another 14 days later on April 14.
Police have been touring pharmacies after claims that they were hoarding drugs and reports that basic medicine prices have surged by as much as 900 per cent.
In Venezuela, authorities have linked some cases to migrants who fled the country’s economic crisis but have now returned during the pandemic.
A government minister said on Tuesday that Venezuela had seen a record 131 new cases in the previous 24 hours, of which 110 were linked to arrivals from abroad.
Migrants returning to Venezuela are required to spend a 14-day quarantine period at shelters at the border, rather than in their home states.
Venezuela has since imposed new curfews in a handful of towns along its borders with Colombia and Brazil in response to a jump in coronavirus cases.
The surge in cases in Latin America has been driven by a growing outbreak in Brazil, where there have been nearly 300,000 infections so far. Pictured: the coffin of a virus patient is buried in Sao Paulo yesterday
Around the world, virologists are racing to develop a vaccine which would turn the tide against the virus, but it is likely to be many months away at least.
Scientists are also trying to develop drugs to treat the virus more effectively, meaning that countries would have less to fear from an outbreak.
Some vaccine projects have already begun testing humans, including at Oxford University.
Up to 1,102 participants have been recruited across multiple study sites in Oxford, Southampton, London and Bristol, although results are not expected for weeks.
Imperial College London is also progressing with its vaccine candidate and will look to move into clinical trials by mid-June, with larger scale trials in October.
However, experts and politicians warn there is no guarantee that an effective vaccine will ever be developed.
Even if it is, there are concerns about how it will be distributed in large enough quantities to bring the pandemic to a standstill.
Health workers and coronavirus patients in an intensive care unit in Manaus in northern Brazil yesterday, in a country which now has the third-largest outbreak in the world after the United States and Russia