RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, May 28 ------ Brazil's death toll from the new coronavirus surpassed 25,000 on Wednesday, as the country emerged as the latest epicenter in the pandemic. The health ministry said it had confirmed 1,086 new deaths in the past 24 hours, the fifth time the daily toll has exceeded 1,000 since the crisis accelerated in Brazil last week. That pushed the nationwide death toll to 25,598.
The country of 210 million people now has 411,821 confirmed cases of the virus, second only to the United States. Experts say under-testing means the real figures are probably much higher. President Jair Bolsonaro is facing mounting criticism over his response to the pandemic. The far-right leader has downplayed the virus and railed against stay-at-home measures, arguing the economic fallout risks causing more damage than the virus itself. But most state governments have stuck to the World Health Organization's guidance and closed non-essential businesses.
Sao Paulo, the country's industrial hub and hardest-hit state, extended its stay-at-home Wednesday until June 15, though Governor Joao Doria announced a gradual reopening of "some activities" would be allowed from June 1. Bolsonaro has meanwhile pinned his hopes on the medication hydroxychloroquine, which — like US President Donald Trump — he has touted as a potential wonder drug against COVID-19. Brazil's health ministry recommends doctors in the public health system prescribe hydroxychloroquine or a related drug, chloroquine, from the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. It said Monday it stood by that guideline, despite the WHO ending clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine over concerns about its safety and effectiveness against the coronavirus.