June 15, 2020 / 9:23 PM / 2 months ago

Coronavirus deaths near 44,000 in Brazil, No.2 global hotspot

Taxi drivers line-up in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome where health workers conduct tests for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for taxi drivers on the drive-thru system in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil’s death toll from the novel coronavirus pandemic rose to nearly 44,000 on Monday, according to Health Ministry data, as the country continued easing restrictions on circulation despite the world’s second-worst outbreak after the United States.

Brazil registered 627 new fatalities on Monday, down from an average of nearly 1,000 over the past week. Reporting of fatalities typically slows over the weekend.

Although Brazil’s official death toll from the pandemic has risen to 43,959, the true impact is likely far greater than the data show, health experts say, because of a lack of widespread testing in Latin America’s largest country.

The Health Ministry registered about 20,000 new coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the total to 888,271 infections.

Despite the severity of the outbreak, many Brazilian states and cities have begun easing social distancing rules in recent weeks amid growing public fatigue and repeated demands from President Jair Bolsonaro to get the economy going.

On Monday, Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization’s top emergencies expert, said Latin America remained a cause for concern.

“Brazil cannot be singled out in the Americas - there are many other countries in the Americas like Mexico, Chile and others who have had significant number of cases and continue to have an upswinging epidemic,” he said. “I would characterize the situation in Central and South America as being of concern.”

Reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Additional reporting by Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Leslie Adler and Grant McCool

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