Brazil sees spike in coronavirus cases, with some hospitals overloaded

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The number of coronavirus cases in Brazil have skyrocketed in recent weeks, pushing many hospitals to the brink and prompting health experts to warn that the country is on its way to becoming the next global hotspot while cases plateau in other hard-hit countries.

The mounting cases have pushed some hospitals to leave victims to die at homes.

"We have all the conditions here for the pandemic to become much more serious," said Paulo Brandão, a virologist at the University of Sao Paulo.

A health worker holds a photo of a person he said was his colleague who died of COVID-19, at a protest outside "Pronto Socorro 28 de Agosto" Hospital in Manaus, Brazil, Monday, April 27, 2020.

A health worker holds a photo of a person he said was his colleague who died of COVID-19, at a protest outside "Pronto Socorro 28 de Agosto" Hospital in Manaus, Brazil, Monday, April 27, 2020. (AP)

Brazil, Latin America's biggest country with 211 million people, has implemented strict lockdown measures compared with some U.S. states and European countries.

President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic, dismissing it as just a "little flu" and saying there is no need for the sharp restrictions.

He said people need to resume their lives to prevent an economic meltdown. But most state governors in the country have adopted restrictions to slow the spread and pushed people to stay at home.

In mid-April, Bolsonaro fired his popular health minister after a series of disagreements over efforts to contain the virus, replacing him with an advocate for reopening the economy. Residents protested, leaning out their windows to bang pots and pans.

Brazil officially reported about 4,200 deaths and almost 62,000 confirmed infections, but the true numbers there are believed to be vastly higher given the lack of testing and the number of people without severe symptoms who have not sought hospital care.

Some scientists have estimated over 1 million in Brazil are probably infected.

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Officials in Sao Paulo have issued death certificates over the past two weeks for 236 people who succumbed at home, double the number before the outbreak, according to the SAMU paramedic service.

Manaus, an Amazon city of 1.8 million, recorded 142 deaths on Sunday, the most yet. In the main cemetery, workers have been digging mass graves. Brazil's funeral industry warned last week that the city was running out of coffins and "there could soon be corpses left on corners.”

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Worldwide, the death toll topped 200,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The number of dead in the U.S. topped 56,000, while Italy, Britain, Spain, and France accounted for more than 20,000 deaths each.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.