RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A surging coronavirus is ravaging parts of Latin America, setting records for cases and deaths Friday in some countries in the world's most unequal region 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, fueling 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, surpassing Russia to become the nation with the second-highest number of infections, behind only the U.S., according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Brazil also has recorded more than 21,000 deaths, though experts believe the true numbers are higher.
The virus “does not forgive," Uber driver Bruno Almeida de Mello said at the burial of his grandmother Vandelma Rosa, 66, in Rio de Janeiro. “It does not choose race or if you are rich or poor, black or white. It’s a cruel disease.”
De Mello said his grandmother’s death certificate reads “suspected of COVID-19,” but the hospital didn’t have the tests necessary to confirm it. That means her death was not counted in the official toll.
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. 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.
Even in countries where cases are rising, many governments say they need to focus on jobs that are vanishing as quickly as the virus spreads.
In the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, unemployment is soaring. The chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve has estimated that as many as 1 in 4 Americans could be jobless. In China, analysts estimate around a third of the urban workforce is unemployed.
In the U.S., public health officials are warning people to follow social distancing and other anti-virus measures as they head into a three-day holiday weekend that honors the country's military dead. Millions are expected to emerge from lockdowns and head to beaches and parks, raising concerns about new outbreaks.
Meanwhile, the virus is roaring through other countries far more ill-equipped to handle the pandemic, with scientists worried that new cases will fan the embers of a second global wave of infections.
India saw its biggest single-day spike since the pandemic began, and Pakistan and Russia recorded their highest death tolls. Most new Indian cases are in Bihar, where thousands returned home from jobs in cities.
Russian state news agencies reported the authoritarian leader of the southern region of Chechnya was taken to a Moscow hospital with suspected COVID-19 symptoms. Ramzan Kadyrov has run predominantly Muslim Chechnya with an iron fist since 2007 and the Kremlin has relied on him to keep the North Caucasus region stable after two devastating separatist wars. The Chechen parliament speaker denied the reports, which cited an unidentified medical source.