Coronavirus cases are growing faster than ever in Mexico, Chile and Argentina, while Peru posted its deadliest day yet and a new study showed the illness may be far more widespread in Brazil than official data suggests.
Brazilian states on Friday reported 909 new deaths, bringing the nation’s total death count to 41,828, and overtaking the U.K. for the second highest number of COVID-19 fatalities. Infections rose by 25,982, pushing the toll to 828,810. Brazil now trails only the U.S. on both counts.
A study showed the illness may be far more widespread in Latin America’s largest economy than official data suggests. Researchers at the University of Pelotas in southern Brazil estimate there are six unreported cases for every one confirmed diagnosis across 120 cities studied. In Rio de Janeiro alone, where 40,000 cases are included in the federal government’s official tally, up to half a million people may have been exposed to the coronavirus since the pandemic began, they said.
“The number of people with antibodies is in the millions — not thousands,” the authors, led by university dean and coordinator of the study Pedro Hallal, said in a statement on Thursday.
Results from so-called quick antibody blood tests were adjusted for potential false negatives and false positives — estimated at 15% and 0.02%, respectively, Hallal said. Their conclusions are based on tests and interviews with a random group of more than 31,000 people conducted June 4-7.
While “marked differences” across regions in Brazil preclude the researchers from pinpointing exactly what percent of Brazil’s 210 million people may have already been exposed, it adds evidence to what health professionals and government officials have long suspected: in a nation where the government has shunned large-scale quarantines and where social and economic factors water down whatever social-distancing measures have been ordered, the virus has been circulating largely unchecked.
Inadequate testing, political turmoil and precarious health systems point to a similar picture across Latin America, where the total number of infections stands at over 1.4 million. The region currently accounts for 46% of all deaths daily.
Mexico reported 5,222 new daily cases on Friday, Chile announced 6,754 and Argentina 1,391 — all of them new highs. Chile also announced its highest daily death toll to date, with 222 people reported to have died.
Still, Brazil, the largest country in Latin America, has almost four times as many cases as any other country in the region. The University of Washington’s Institution for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which the Trump administration has relied on, projects Brazil will overtake the U.S. in per-capita deaths by mid-July.
Brazil’s northeastern states now have more cases than the region that’s home to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the country’s largest cities, which started off as the epicenter of the pandemic in the country.
Though the number of deaths in the northeast is still lower — the southeast accounts for almost half of all confirmed COVID-19 fatalities so far — the mortality rate per 100,000 people is the highest among Brazil’s five regions.
Meanwhile, several states and cities have started to lift quarantine orders that in any case varied wildly, amid growing pressure to reopen the economy. Scenes of crowds in shopping malls and busy streets have worried health experts who say the moves are coming too soon and will increase transmission of the virus.
“It’s like we’re challenging the virus,” Hallal said in a webcast with newspaper Valor Economico on Friday. “It’s irresponsible, and could have very serious consequences. It’s very worrying.”